Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Here Comes the Devil (2012)

Original title: Ahi va el diablo

Adolfo (Alan Martinez) and Sara (Michele Garcia), the children of Sol (Laura Caro, whose performance will turn out to be the emotional heart of the film) and Felix (Francisco Barreiro), disappear on a notorious hill connected to a serial killing for half a day and a night when the parents become distracted by an opportunity to a bit of car seat sex.

At first, things seem well enough when the police find the children and bring them back unharmed, but it soon becomes clear to at least Sol (Felix is a bit slower in these things) that something must have happened while they were gone, something that results in both of the kids starting to act rather off. A psychologist and some physical evidence suggest some sort of traumatic sexual experience. Not surprisingly, Sol and Felix suspect a guy (David Arturo Cabezud) who had shown a rather unhealthy interest in Sara’s panties (freshly bloodied by the girl’s first period, which has no direct import on the plot, but does figure in a lot of thematic work concerning the loss of innocence and so on).

After the kids flip out when they see the man in an amateur detective version of a police line-up, their parents decide that’s all the evidence they need, and murder him in a brutal yet slightly improbable way. Which, the couple assumes, should put an end to things. Of course it doesn’t, not just because you can’t make trauma disappear by killing the person responsible for it, but because Sol and Felix might just have slaughtered an innocent man. In fact, what truly happened to Sara and Adolfo on the hill might have been something even worse than their parents suspected.

Sol relatively quickly realizes a part of the truth, yet suspecting an impossible truth doesn’t always mean one is able to do something about it.

As frequent readers might remember, I rather loved Adrián García Bogliano’s last film, Penumbra. Here Comes the Devil finds the director working in Mexico (with a wee bit of a US money injection, it seems) instead of Argentina, but most everything else I admired about Penumbra applies to the film at hand as well.

Particularly that Bogliano is one hell of a ultra low budget director, the type of director that knows how to make a film without fat, without scenes of feet-dragging and without detours into the realm of boredom. Unlike with a lot – though of course fortunately not all - indie horror directors, those of Bogliano’s films I’ve seen until now suggest someone with a highly focused approach to direction, where every scene is stringently composed to achieve a particular effect (be it emotional, mood-building, or otherwise), and the idea of just pointing and shooting seems like the demonstration of a lack of imagination or faith of a director in his own abilities it generally is.

Not that I believe keeping this focused is usually easy or even possible on the tight schedules and with the limited opportunities that come with miniscule budgets; yet it is also obvious that someone like Bogliano manages the feat in a way that makes it look easy.

Apart from this focus – or tightness, if you prefer - I particularly admire how Here Comes the Devil uses light and wide open spaces (Mexico really photographs well) to produce an increasingly oppressive mood. Sure, there’s also room for darkness and claustrophobia here – and particularly for the effect of stepping out of claustrophobic feeling open spaces into just as claustrophobic closed ones and vice versa – yet what I remember most about the film is how it manages to make beautiful open spaces feel wrong. And as if that weren’t enough for me to get excited about, Here Comes the Devil also features moments of well-placed sleaze, hand-made surrealism, and the sort of mythology that echoes Arthur Machen more than it does the exorcism horror the title suggests.

Additionally, Bogliano packs in as many hidden and obvious visual sexual metaphors as humanly possible without resulting in a film that feels overloaded (just look at that damn cave, for example). Surely, if I ever saw a horror movie that very consciously wants you to interpret it in various psychosexual ways, this is it.

What Here Comes the Devil also happens to be is as excellent a horror film as I’ve seen, which only goes to show that, despite all the bitching and moaning about contemporary horror – indie or mainstream – I do (just wait until I encounter You’re Next), a lot of great genre films are still made, and not just by Bogliano.

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