TIFF 2023: When Evil Lurks Review

Gun shots ring out in the black of night, setting off a chain of events that will decimate an unsuspecting rural community. 

Two panicked brothers, Pedro (Ezequiel Rodríguez) and Jimmy (Demián Salomón), load their rifles and head out into the ominous darkness. As the morning sun peeks over the horizon, they discover an eviscerated body on their neighbour’s farm.  

The body is cleaved in half, with coiled entrails spread over the dirt like a garden hose. It’s not a pretty sight, but things will only get worse for Pedro and Jimmy. 

Sometimes, you only need to watch a few minutes of a film to know you’re in good hands, and writer-director Demián Rugna’s When Evil Lurks is a shining example. As soon as the film begins, it’s as though the air in the room thins out, and the temperature drops a couple of degrees. And things only get worse for viewers brave enough to stick around for what’s next.  


The story kicks into high gear when Jimmy and Pedro follow a trail of clues to their neighbour’s home. They find a bedridden young man, bloated and deformed. There’s a reason the sickly man looks like someone left Jabba the Hutt out in the sun; he’s possessed by demonic forces. 

In Pedro and Jimmy’s world, possession is a fact of life. Evil forces roam the land seeking flesh to inhabit. The infected people, called rottens, must be handled in a particular manner or else the evil within them will spread like a plague. 

The brothers decide dumping the rotten somewhere far away is the easiest solution. So they pack up and head hundreds of miles outside town. Things don’t go as planned; the evil force gets unleashed on the community and before long, Pedro and Jimmy find themselves staring down an existential threat. 

Rugna is becoming a major player in the horror scene. His last film, 2017’s Terrified (Aterrados) — a must-see for any horror nerd — was named best horror feature at Fantastic Fest. And with the release of When Evil Lurks, people are already throwing around labels like “next horror master.”  


It’s easy to see what the hype is about. Rugna has a brilliant understanding of horror movie mechanics and a strong command of cinematic language. He masterfully weaponizes tension and dread, so his films get under your skin and dwell like an unscratchable itch. 

When Evil Lurks delivers a relentless attack on your senses, it hits like a raw nerve plunged in ice. The music, cinematography and production design are top-notch. The gruesome visuals will linger in your mind long after the film ends. And the unsettling score sounds like your eardrums are having a panic attack. But what will ruin your sleep are the vicious setpieces.  

Rugna gives no f**ks about viewers’ mental well-being because he drags them to some dark places. When the violence erupts, it does so with a degree of brutality that would make Ari Aster say, “That’s messed up.” When Evil Lurks is as twisted as any horror flick you’ll see in 2023. Consider that a warning. 

Part of the reason this film works so well is because of how grounded it feels in the real world. First, the concept of a mysterious outbreak rampaging through society hits differently now than it would have back in 2019. The film relies on atmosphere and practical effects rather than CGI bringing an extra layer of authenticity, a decision Rugna wears like a badge of honour.


What I appreciated most is the filmmaker’s approach to revealing the world’s mythology. Throughout the film Rugna spills subtle details about the evil force and its impact on the broader world. Its presence isn’t anything new to the characters, but he never spells out exactly what’s going on. It’s up to viewers to string bits and pieces of information together. 

The film treats demonic possessions like a plague. At one point it’s suggested that the government neglects certain outbreaks to drive farmers off their precious land. You really get the sense this story is just a sliver of a much broader conflict. It’s an intriguing premise that left me hungry for more stories within this embattled world. 

Rodríguez and Salomón’s grizzled performances give the film an additional layer of emotional weight. You feel their terror set in as the world goes to hell. Watching them slowly come to terms with the inevitability of the forces they’re facing is crushing.  

When Evil Lurks reminds me of the films in John Carpenter’s apocalypse trilogy (The Thing, Prince of Darkness, In the Mouth of Madness). They present bleak and unflinching looks at ordinary men who confront powerful forces beyond their comprehension. You may root for the good guys in these films, but it never feels like they have a fighting chance. 


When Evil Lurks is a perfect Midnight Madness movie. It’s dark, twisted, and full of jump scares and gnarly visuals. Like the best horror flicks, it delivers a cerebral commentary on real-world issues. Rugna once again delivers a shocking and sinister descent into depravity guaranteed to shake viewers to their core. 

When Evil Lurks had its World Premiere as part of TIFF 2023. Head here for more coverage from this year’s festival.