Tonal incosistency and half-baked ideas derail 'Here Comes the Devil'
Here Comes the Devil Magnet Releasing
Director: Adrián García Bogliano
Screenplay: Adrián García Bogliano
Starring: Laura Caro, Francisco Barreiro, Michele Garcia, Alan Martinez, Giancarlo Ruiz and David Arturo Cabezud
Not rated / 1 hour, 37 minutes
Now playing in limited release and VOD
(out of four)
Here Comes the Devil touches on subjects that it's not fully prepared to explore. Even the title is a misstep. You invoke the concept of the devil in the title of your movie, you better know what to do with it. This film doesn't, clumsily bringing him/it up a few times and finding little use for it except as a banal representation of evil (which kinda goes without saying).
Beyond that, the film deals with child abduction and abuse, serial murder, revenge and a couple of other underlying disturbances I can't spoil. But it never finds its groove, instead hopping from tone to tone and rarely finding anything in particular to say about its subject matter.
At its heart, the film is a haunting psychodrama of a family struggling to deal with the emotional and moral turmoil stemming from the disappearance and reappearance of their two children. But the atmosphere is maddeningly imprecise as the film tries to decide whether it wants to be a somber exercise in dread, a morally ambiguous vengeance tale, or a sardonic, borderline surrealist horror movie. Parts seem more at home than others (the revenge angle is particularly ineffective and out of place), but none of it really develops except in fits and starts.
At times it feels like the director is trying to make an entirely different movie than the writer was. That they are the same person is incidental. A mere detail. The fact remains, the two are at odds with one another. Adrián García Bogliano's filmmaking style is so capricious, it's virtually impossible for anything to fully take root. His attempts to be tongue-in-cheek prove especially disastrous, his constant crash-zooms disrupting any true sense of dread or sorrow that may have otherwise existed.
Those impulses come out primarily in and around the mountainside where the couple's children - Sara (Michele Garcia) and her younger brother Adolfo (Alan Martinez) - go missing one afternoon. The stylistic flourishes seem like an almost Jodorowsky-like attempt to push the setting into the realm of the surreal, but it actually just ends up undercutting the very real horror that the mountain comes to represent.
The way the film begins is another example. Bogliano jumps right in with an opening lesbian sex scene, playfully set to heavy metal, before the night is disrupted by an intruder who proceeds to beat one of the women half to death only to get his comeuppance at the hands of the other. It's a scene I initially liked, but which seemed conspicuously off-key in retrospect. That inability to strike the right tone is the only consistent thing about the movie.
In fairness, that opening sequence does set the stage for the film's sexual commentary, which is by far its most interesting angle. Horror is notorious for punishing characters for their sexual conduct, and in Here Comes the Devil Bogliano exploits and upends that convention. When Sara and Adolfo make a seemingly innocuous trek up the mountainside one afternoon, their parents - Sol (Laura Caro) and Felix (Francisco Barreiro) - distract themselves with a bit of long-delayed sex in the front seat of their car, during which they recall (or simply make up) somewhat taboo carnal experiences from their youth.
And it's during (or, within the film's commentary, because of) this little session of theirs that the children disappear. (Additionally, the shape of the cavern into which the children get lost is surely not accidental.) A later scene reverses the dynamic, with the couple's intimacy serving as something of a therapeutic measure after, shall we say, a long and unusual night out.
As it turns out, the disappearance of their children was the easy part. They're back home within a day, but they're different. Expressionless. They barely speak. They've developed a deeper-than-usual sibling bond that the parents can't quite explain, and which raises red flags for the family's psychologist.
The psychological and subtly supernatural underpinnings - particularly in the family's home - are the real meat of the film, as Sol and Felix struggle to reconcile the strange disconnect they suddenly feel from their children, and try to find a way to uncover and deal with whatever might have happened to them on the mountain that day, and at whose hands.
There's a great supporting performance by Giancarlo Ruiz (equal parts gentle and sardonic) as the local police sergeant who initially discovers the lost children and periodically pops into the story afterward (initially at the parents' request, later to their chagrin). Here, too, the film seems less confident in what it wants to do with this character, except for give Sol and Felix a rather obligatory complication to their ongoing moral and metaphysical conundrum.
At its best - Felix's front-seat seduction of his wife, Sergeant Flores' sly pseudo-interrogation of Sol one afternoon - Here Comes the Devil shows the steady hand of a strong and confident filmmaker. The rest of the time, it simply flails around trying to find an angle on ideas it never quite figures out.