Before it flies off the rails at the end, Here Comes the Devil (2013, directed by Adrián García Bogliano) builds a formidable ambiance of dread. It's mostly a slow burner, in which the intellectual implications of its set-up are more horrible than any monsters, though in the end, it supplies monsters. Maybe. It's an ambiguous, sometimes perplexing movie.
The movie opens with an energetic lesbian sex scene, one interrupted by a machete-wielding murderer. The murderer flees to a hill scattered with rounded rocks. Then the story proper begins, in which a couple with two children stop during a day trip to Tijuana near the very same hill. The elder child, a girl, is experiencing her first period. Both children want to explore the rocks on the hills and their parents, Sol and Felix, indulge them in order to have time alone for a sexual tryst in the car in order to rekindle their dormant passions for each other. The kids don't return. The parents become frantic, as parents do, and call the police who put them up in a hotel while they search for the kids. They're found the next day, but there's something...off about them. They're colder. Distant. It's like something has taken the life out of them. Sol and Felix begin to suspect a local man of molesting them and take justice into their own hands when they track him down. The guilt for this weighs on Sol, especially after the cop on the case of her children begins to hint that the police know what they've done. Even so, she begins to suspect darker and darker things, particularly when she finds odd bruises on the back of her son and when she learns that the kids have been ditching school in order to return to the site of their disappearance. One day, she follows them, and then she goes on her own after contriving to prevent the kids from going anywhere themselves. And then she learns the horrible truth...
This film starts with a bang, if you'll pardon the pun. It's up front with its sexuality, both in the opening lesbian sex scene and in the tryst between Sol and Felix in the car. The first seems a standard male-gaze exploitation scene, truth to tell, one designed to break the ice for horror fans who may get impatient with the slow-burn construction of the rest of the film. The second scene, though, that's different. It's intimate and perverse and hot as hell. Sexuality is a core tenet of this film's view of horror, and it feeds the horrible things Sol and Felix suspect of Lucio, the man they murder for stealing their daughter's bloodstained panties. It's the core of the moral panic that motivates their actions.
For great whacks of its running time, this film settles on a slow, ratcheting of tension, either through the awkward, strange behavior of the kids after their return, or the repeat visits by Sgt. Flores. During the long middle part of the film, this could be mistaken for a Hitchcockian examination of shared guilt and it's thoroughly effective when it pursues this path, especially given the repeated hints that Sol and Felix have murdered the wrong man for the crime. This possibility is deliciously horrible and keeps the film ticking away like a finely tuned watch. I almost wish that that had been the plot engine of the denouement, though the film never conceals the fact that it is, in fact, off the point. This part of the film is a showcase for actress Laura Caro as Sol. She's the heart of the movie and she's terrific.
When Here Comes the Devil fulfills its title, sort of, it starts to get itself into trouble. It veers into the realm of doppelgangers and demonic possession and becomes less and less credible, until it completely flies off the rails in the end. I mean, sure. It plays fair with the audience. It gives them the horror movie that it promises, and it works okay as a horror movie. It's slowly building dread works toward that end, too, but it seems so much less interesting than what might have been had the filmmakers chosen a more mundane idiom. Indeed, the parts seem to outweigh the whole and I would certainly have preferred a film that was more completely integrated. But that's reviewing the film I would prefer rather than the one I've been given. Director Adrián García Bogliano certainly has the chops and the end of this film is creepy enough to leave a mark.
Note: Happy Halloween, everyone. As usual for this time of year, I'm behind on writing about my movies. I'll be posting reviews of what I've watched deep into November, I'm sure. I still have pieces yet to write about Witching and Bitching, Proxy, A Field in England, Morgana, and Rigor Mortis. I also watched The Cat and the Canary and The Island, both of which I've seen before. I don't know if I'll write about either of them. We'll see what I have the energy for. I'm anxious to resume writing about other kinds of films (of which, I also have a huge backlog). I'll finish the challenge tonight while handing out candy. As I did last year, I'll be ending with a bunch of old-school classics, including Son of Dracula, The Bride of Frankenstein, The Body Snatcher, The Spiral Staircase, and The Mummy.
Current Challenge tally:
Total Viewings: 20
First Time Viewings: 13
Around the Web:
Kevin at For It Is Man's Number looks out his window at many sights to see. It must be Halloween III: The Season of the Witch.
Scott at Blasphemous Tomes finds Trouble Every Day difficult to categorize, but digs it anyway.
Bob at Eternal Sunshine of the Logical Mind finds that The Babadook builds up an almost unbearable sense of dread without providing an easy out in his latest dispatch from Toronto.
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