Here Comes the Devil is only the second film I've seen by writer-director Adrián García Bogliano, following a recent viewing of his "geriatric lunatics with nitroglycerine" horror movie Cold Sweat just a few weeks ago.
Seeing both films in such close proximity caused me a small amount of psychic whiplash, given how the first movie was a seedy, sometimes silly work that careened from Saw-style torture scenarios in a decrepit mansion to an abrupt homage to The People Under the Stairs with sun-deprived boys replaced with nude, feral camgirls.
And two years later, we have the (relatively) more sedate, though no less lunatic Here Comes the Devil, which goes for a more traditional psychological style of horror for most of its running time, punctuated by abrupt, uncomfortable and/or grotesque bursts of emotional and physical violence.
A prologue featuring a steamy tryst between two women set to sexy brass music would almost convince you that Bogliano was back in his Cold Sweat zone, before he ends that sequence with a vicious, abbreviated home invasion by a machete-wielding madman. The would-be killer retreats to the dunes, taking a grisly box of trophies with him, where ... something ... happens to him and we jump to the real subjects of the film, the nuclear family comprised of Felix (Francisco Barreiro), wife Sol (Laura Caro), and children Adolfo and Sara (Alan Martinez, Michele Garcia).
The family vacation turns dire when the kids go missing in the ominous hills near a truck stop, and get strange when the kids just as suddenly return, quiet and distant. With prodding from a child psychiatrist, Sol is convinced that the kids may have been molested, leading her and Felix to a bloody act of justice. But whatever happened to Adolfo and Sara, it isn't the everyday horror of molestation, but something stranger and more dangerous.
So much of what happens here rests on the shoulders of actors Barreiro and Caro, who are asked to communicate a breakdown in a marriage in the midst of initially subtle supernatural goings-on. When things get full-tilt weird, the movie, as so many of these types of films do, focuses on the mother who is more in tune with the children. Sol is the first to be aware that something is wrong with Sara and the first to ultimately discover the truth of it. It's a tricky role that could potentially descend into histrionics, but Caro gives her character a steeliness and resolve to protect her kids and later a different kind of determination to deal with what walked out of those hills.
The story is pretty straightforward, but that abruptness that I mentioned earlier -- both in violence and sex -- give the movie its unsettling feel. After its opening, the pacing of Here Comes the Devil could almost be described as languid, even after the kids comes back from the hills, but it gives that last third all that more impact for shifting the earth out from under you and tilting into another, more gruesome, and odd film.
I wish we could have learned more about that first killer who made his way out of the hills or gotten more time with Felix and Sol after their trip back into the wild, but I guess I should be impressed that Bogliano left me wanting more with his curious horror film. If only for the unusual, lurching changes that the movie goes through as it makes its way towards its finale, Here Comes the Devil is definitely worth checking out.
Review originally published during the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2012. The film opens in select theaters in the U.S. on Friday, December 13. It will also be available to watch via various Video On Demand platforms. Visit the official site for more information.