Horror films generally do little to add layers to their characters. But I think I’ve seen an anomaly of the highest caliber in Demian Rugna’s When Evil Lurks, where the characters are deeply immersed in the world and they need not explain too much to gain our trust that something truly wicked is going on in the film. The film has some of the most fascinating characters, and they are made all the more potent by their placement in the context of a neo-noir western. When Evil Lurks knows exactly when to turn the proceedings up a notch, and even though it becomes too obscure during some moments, especially when dealing with the origins of evil, it keeps us engaged in the plot. It wouldn’t have been possible without complex characters that had enough gas to keep the events interesting. Most of the film rides on Pedro’s shoulders, and he sure does have his flaws that keep us hooked throughout. A bearded, cynical, and angry man, living with his brother Jimi, divorced from his wife, never expected the ‘rotten’ to show up and destroy his life.
It’s strange, but the internal logic of When Evil Lurks has us believing the whole town is aware of the ‘rotten’ who could possess somebody. When Pedro heard the gunshots one night, he figured someone was out there either shooting to save themselves or there was someone hell bent on killing another person. Jimi and Pedro went out to look for the clues and get to the heart of the matter, and from there began their journey into the unknown. A man, sliced in half, was found in the forest at dawn, and the contents of his wallet indicated that he had been on his way to meet a simple rural woman named Maria Elena, who lived on the outskirts with her two sons. Pedro and Jimi reached Maria Elena’s house, and what they saw frightened them out of their wits. Uriel, Maria’s eldest, had swelled up to triple his size, as if about to die from bursting into a pool of pus. The smell was unbearable, and Pedro and Jimi both realized that he was ‘rotten’.
The family had informed the police department of Uriel’s case, but they had taken no action. Pedro had his own history with the police department when his ex-wife took away their two sons and had a restraining order filed against him. Well, this current matter was much more pressing than what had transpired a year ago. What Pedro asked for was a ‘cleaner,’ an exorcist who would kill the possessed one in a way that would not let him reproduce the spawn of evil. But the police simply didn’t believe Pedro and apart from that, the Church had collapsed and the police didn’t deal with the cleaners. It had lost its powers, and nobody had enough faith in the power of the Church. As far as Pedro was concerned, God had been long dead, and he needed an expert to nullify the ‘rotten’.
But even after knowing all this, he couldn’t convince Ruiz, the landowner who went berserk over the news of having the ‘rotten’ on his land, to not be rash and deal with Uriel wisely. When Ruiz’s temper rose, Pedro nudged Jimi to help in relocating Uriel (possibly to dump him in a ditch outside of town), hoping that the ‘rotten’ wouldn’t attack their loved ones. Everybody was terrified of its power, and yet they brazenly took Uriel, loaded his swollen body onto a pickup truck, and went away. Uriel, of course, disappeared once they left town. The possessed worked in mysterious ways, and now it had escaped the house as well. Pedro’s clothes had touched Uriel by mistake, and he knew he had to get rid of them, and with Uriel on the loose, he knew his family was in trouble.
A frantic Pedro went to his ex-wife’s house, unaware that this was a huge mistake. His sons were in the house, and Pedro had made up his mind to take them to safety. There was his mother as well, whom he wanted to save, but his heart wanted to see his kids first. Sabrina, Pedro’s ex-wife, didn’t exactly welcome him when he showed up, breaking the law. His clothes had been sniffed by Sabrina’s pet dog, and soon that manifestation of the ‘rotten’ had possessed the dog as well, which mauled Sabrina’s daughter to death. Pandemonium ensued, and Pedro barely managed to escape with his sons, one of whom was autistic. Pedro’s life had been a series of catastrophes, which explained his manic and angry demeanor. He was frustrated that he had never been able to make the right decision. This was perhaps the only time he would get that opportunity. He couldn’t save Sabrina, and there was a hint that he didn’t want to. He had come to rescue Santino and Jair, and that’s exactly what he managed to do. Jair was the one who needed special care, and Pedro wasn’t that kind of caregiver. He was lucky that he got his mother and brother to look after the kids while he planned an escape out of town. The possessed had his own principles, which he didn’t know about, and the town’s legendary cleaner, Mirta, couldn’t help him ultimately.
Pedro’s anger got the better of him. The experienced Mirta, whom they had met after Jimi had gotten hold of her, had told Pedro that his fear of losing his sons was the very thing that was attracting the possessed towards him, and yet he couldn’t overcome his own weaknesses. Pedro, who had told everyone not to kill the possessed ones with a firearm or in anger and fear, killed Uriel in the end. He couldn’t prevent evil from being born because he wasn’t a fearless man. He had to protect his family, but his inner chaos brought only mayhem into everyone’s life. He could not practice what he preached. When he was running from Sabrina, after she too was possessed, he couldn’t control his fear of losing Santino, which is why Sabrina found Santino and killed him.
When Mirta was killed by the possessed, his anger and frustration knew no bounds, and he killed Uriel the wrong way. Jair was possessed too and ultimately, he killed Pedro’s mother. Pedro missed the fact about Jair’s possession altogether. The reason was that Pedro wasn’t an attentive person, and he was blinded by jealousy, rage, and frustration in most cases. He couldn’t see that Jair was possessed when Mirta had noticed it in the blink of an eye. Wherever he escaped, he couldn’t escape from his weaknesses that had almost possessed him. So, in a way, he carried his own ‘rotten’ inside, which attracted the real one to him. Ultimately, there was only his brother Jimi who remained, and perhaps he too would be taken away, or Pedro’s life would return to ‘normal’, where he would live alongside his brother, completely loveless, waiting to die alone in the cottage on the outskirts of the town.