Overview: Two children disappear into a cavernous hillside with a dark history. MPI Media Group; 2013; 97 Minutes.
A Dark Beginning: Of course, like any formula-obsessed horror film, there exists an opening chapter– two women are in a house alone, introducing ideas through dialogue, and then a killer shows up. That short preface feels obligatory and creates the expectation of yet another stale trip into familiar, unexciting territory. However, once the central narrative begins, the film’s opening act maintains an expertly crafted sense of dread, illustrated by a discomforting landscape, seeped in the tones of dusk, hosting a patiently unsettling narrative. For a fraction of the film, from the moment of the children’s disappearance to the investigation of the trauma after their return, Here Comes the Devil is a sinister and jarring duet of real world fears and supernatural suspense. Which makes it all the more heartbreaking when the film runs back into the buffet line of stale old horror tropes.
Sexuality: One of the rusted genre staples explored in this movie is the idea of sexual impurity being a marker of a doomed fate. The movie starts with a lesbian sex scene , moves directly to a young girl’s first menstruation, and then moves just as directly to her parents enjoying a little humid hand sex in the car, fueled by an exchange of confessed sexual encounters from childhood. After the children return, a really bad movie doctor suggests that the daughter has been sexually compromised, perhaps forcibly. A babysitter finds the siblings sexually engaged with one another. And the camera is obsessed with symbolic vaginas. Writer/director Adrián García Bogliano beats this dead horse so furiously that I can’t make any sense of the carcass. It’s impossible to tell what all of this sexuality is meant to communicate in the context of the film.
Strikes and Gutters: Perhaps the creepiest element of the movie comes through the communication of the legacy of evil within the geographic area in which the children were lost. Each telling grows exponentially more unnerving and more likely. Other monologues, like those provided by the detective investigating the parents’ act of revenge, are strained and melodramatic. The film seems hurried to display its knowledge of its predecessors and genre history, and like many horror directors suffering under the ambition, Bogliano doesn’t recognize the functional difference between homage and disruptive mimicry. For instance, the camera and editing heavily reflect filming techniques of late 70s/early 80s slasher and exploitation films. The effect is two-fold: 1.) Strict horror fans get to recall this golden age of the genre 2.) General fans of modern film (who haven’t seen these techniques effectively applied in decades) are shaken right out of their investment with the movie. There are several instances in which zoom-in is applied so quickly that one has to wonder if Bogliano got his start doing used car dealerships commercials.
Overall: While the first act could stand alone as an eerie short, Here Comes the Devil ultimately fails at juggling tradition and ambition, ending up somewhere between standard and messy.