NOVEMBER 5, 2012
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (AFI FEST)
Third time's the charm? I actively disliked Penumbra, and wasn't too crazy about Cold Sweat, but Here Comes The Devil, the newest film from Adrián García Bogliano, almost completely worked for me. Like Penumbra, it's a bit of a slow starter, but the key difference is, I didn't hate the main character - in fact I really sympathized with her and wanted everything to turn out OK for her. Being a horror film, that was not the case, but the surprising turns the story took more than made up for my being bummed out by its conclusion.
It also dealt with something I've been terrified by almost as long as I can remember: being lost/kidnapped. When I was like 7 I went to a bathroom at a restaurant and some dude came in after and asked me if I wanted to go get a soda with him, which I'm guessing was not his actual intention. Ever since, I've been really upset by kids who weren't so smart/lucky, so the kickoff for the film - two kids go off to play in a cave and never come back - really touched a nerve. Luckily for said nerves, they come back relatively quickly, but the movie had hooked me in already, and then I was able to join the parents in figuring out what happened to their children that night.
Again, it's a bit slow going - the kids come back, and it's not until a few days later that the mother realizes something is amiss (other than that they don't seem to want to talk about what happened), and all rational ideas must be explored before anything nutty can happen. So the mom takes her daughter to a doctor, and tries to talk to her as a woman (the girl recently had her first period), etc... they can't just jump right into "HOLY SHIT WHAT IF THEY GOT POSSESSED BY A DEVIL?", if that was indeed the case. In addition to finding out about their well-being, the mom also investigates the cave, and finds out that lots of people go missing there and that it has some sort of weird energy to it that frightens some locals. Could this have something to do with the crazy dude we saw in the opening, largely unrelated sequence, who chops off a few fingers of a young woman before running to the hill, stripping naked, and thrusting around in the sand?
Now, if you're the type that likes everything explained, you should skip this one, as Bogliano doesn't seem interested in over-explaining his plot points or filling in every blank. And to be honest, I myself tend to get frustrated with such films, but what makes this work where his similarly obtuse Penumbra did not is that it gave me someone to care about in the lead role. Laura Caro, a singer making her feature debut, is terrific as the mother, torn between her love for her children and her fear for her own life. With each new piece of information learned, she becomes less a mother trying to avenge her children and more of a plain ol' human being trying to protect her own skin. It's a nicely paced reversal, and kudos to Caro for pulling off something that a seasoned actress might have trouble pulling off.
Bogliano's direction is also quite good, though that was never a problem with his others anyway. He brings a real 70s Euro-touch to the proceedings here, fancying a lot of zooms (some of which are mere misdirection, others legitimately give the film an unhinged flavor) and setting many of the scenes in daylight. In the post film Q&A he was asked for his influences, and while perennial "I made a horror movie that's more like a sad drama" shoutout Don't Look Now was no surprise, I was quite charmed that he dropped Neither The Sea Nor The Sand as well, which is a pretty obscure movie. I wasn't too crazy about that one, but he certainly wasn't bullshitting - both films deal with the rather trying notion of someone coming back (yay!) but not as who they used to be (nay!).
The occasional gore is also effective; the opening attack is very sudden and bloody, and there are a few other bursts of sudden violence that jolted every time. It's not a big body count movie, but Bogliano makes those R-rated moments count, which ALMOST makes up for the film's one major flaw - it's too long. For a movie short on exposition, action, and even characters, a runtime of around 80 minutes could have done fine, as opposed to just under 100. The film's heavy focus on sex in its first 10 minutes or so also seems to be selling a different movie - I'm sure its intentional misdirection, but I'm not sure it totally works. Trimming some of this stuff back, plus a few other scenes I won't spoil, could have driven this up a full letter grade.
But hey, I finally found myself on board with this filmmaker, who works at a pace Woody Allen might find jealous (it's his 11th film in 8 years) and will likely be coaxed into making an American feature soon. Like Ti West, I may not like the final product every time, but I definitely dig that he's out there doing original horror films that aren't trying to cash in on any trends. We need more like him (and his brother Ramiro, who sat this one out), because a filmmaker with ambition for originality AND passion for the genre is far too rare these days.
What say you?