“HERE COMES THE DEVIL” (Movie Review)
The ultimate terror for any, even half-decent, parent is the unthinkable—yet perfectly feasible—concept of losing their child. That primal fear is even more profound in a mother, she who miraculously grows this tiny person inside her and whose connection to her charge is one of the most powerful bonds known.
In Argentinean director Adrián Garcia Bogliano’s shuddery new Mexican-made horror-drama HERE COMES THE DEVIL, both the ferocity of motherhood and the nightmare of lost children are explored in grim, all too real detail. This dark, domestic treatise is goosed by a genuinely skin-crawling supernatural streak, one that does not negate the realities of the story, but rather serves to accentuate it, boiling to fever pitch that, by its final, delirious reel, is almost unbearably intense.
The film stars Mexican superstar Francisco Barreiro (so memorable in the masterful WE ARE WHAT WE ARE) as Felix, husband to the gorgeous Sol (singer Laura Caro in her feature film debut) and father to two sweet pre-teen children, Adolfo and Sara. When the family takes a road trip into the Tijuana hills, the kids go off together to explore the surrounding scenic caves. And never return. As the couple agonizes over the fates of their pretty ones, Adolfo and Sara do indeed return, but over the next several days it becomes clear that something is wrong. Terribly wrong. Initially thinking the children suffered some sort of predator-inflicted trauma (which leads the couple to commit a transgressive act), Sol soon unwinds, and in getting to close to the truth about her brood, seals her fate.
Echoing the ambiguous, sound and image-charged fury of cinema sensualists like Ken Russell and Nicolas Roeg, HERE COMES THE DEVIL hooks its audience immediately, with an intense, explicit lesbian sex scene followed by a vicious assault that sets the tone for the earthy, erotic and spastically violent texture that coats the picture like a sheen of greasy sweat. Sex and death and the dark link between the two are at the black heart of the film, with human coupling either preceding or accompanying bloodshed and in many ways. It’s sexuality that is responsible for the family’s nightmare to begin with.
The locations add much to the fabric of the film, with simple, organic, natural imagery like the stoney cavernous hills that hide the movie’s wrenching secret, terrifying in their bleakness. And again, the frank, lusty depictions of sexuality make the unreal aspects of the movie disturbingly authentic. Unlike your run of the mill American possession film, the true shock in HERE COMES THE DEVIL doesn’t lay in the sting of watching writhing bodies regurgitate warmed over pea soup; it hides in the ordinary and in the maddening idea that the babies that sit at the center of your web are not your babies anymore, and perhaps would even like to inflict harm upon you.
Most importantly, HERE COMES THE DEVIL—though aided by a devastating turn by Caro, whose mother gone mad down spiral performance is maybe second only to Charlotte Gainsbourg in another recent, similar arthouse horror film, ANTICHIRST—is most assuredly an auteur picture, a directorial tour de force. Bogliano (who also made the raunchy COLD SWEAT) knows the language of cinema and fully comprehends what makes a horror film work, even celebrating oft abused tropes like smash cuts, sound blasts and whigged out zooms, using them as surreal stings to mirror the psychological states of the characters. Literally every second of this film is controlled and that goes for the ample sequences when things are out of control.
We watch horror to have our id stimulated, to push our boundaries. That’s the easy part of any filmmaker’s job; the craft comes from knowing how to expertly manipulate your audience and Bogliano does both admirably. Because of this, HERE COMES THE DEVIL is one of the most interesting, frightening and thoroughly alive—both intellectually and viscerally—works of horror and dread this critic has seen in a very, very long time.
This review was originally published out of the Toronto International Film Festival in 2012. It has been republished in light of the film’s theatrical release in the U.S.