Often overlooked or written off, horror movies tend to get a bad reputation outside of their niche audience. Every once in a while, though, a film comes along that embraces the genre’s best elements making it more accessible to the masses. Part of the Vanguard programme at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, Here Comes The Devil is one such film.
A demonic version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers for modern times, Here Comes The Devil lures you in, grabs you by the throat, and doesn’t let go until the last frame. The Mexican film centers on parent Felix (Francisco Barreiro) and Sol (Laura Caro) and their kids Adolfo (Alan Martinez) and Sara (Michele Garcia). While vacationing in Tijuana, the kids wander off and become lost in the mountains. Found by the police at sunrise they are brought home safely; however, they have changed. Something happened to Adolfo and Sara that goes far beyond the trauma of being lost — something unnatural.
Starting off slow and seemingly off-balance, the film seems to labor to get to a point. As a result expectations are lowered and, consequently, so is your guard. What ensues is a thoughtful, well-conceived story that progresses at just the right pace, unveiling a haunting mystery you’ll find yourself desperate to piece together. As the plot progresses, the tension mounts to an almost unbearable boiling point, sending your senses into a frenzy. The resulting climax will have you sitting in awe and disbelief, thoroughly entertained and haunted in equal measure. Horror fanatics — who have already sampled everything the genre has to offer — will find themselves tickled with anticipation as the story progresses so devilishly.
What may at first be off-putting is that the film is stylistically inconsistent; but in this case that is far from detrimental. Every scene is expertly lit, giving them a naturalistic feel. At the same time, dream sequences move at a feverish pace, using every trick in the book — flashing lights, shocking imagery, seizure-enducing image splicing, loud noises, and bright, oversaturated colors. Nudity is gratuitous, but not extensively used. Likewise, the gore is over the top and campy, but used sparingly so as not to desensitize. The reaction shots throughout are a welcome addition. Taking a cue from the soap operas and telenovelas of South America, a character’s reaction is showcased with the most over-dramatic close-up zoom imaginable. The film is clearly self-aware, and able to poke fun at itself. It blends camp and kitsch seamlessly with a hint of sophistication, suggesting that there’s depth to the simplicity playing out on screen. Martinez and Garcia, with ample screen time yet barely any dialogue, create unnerving characters from the start. Beyond maintaining creepy demeanors, they establish an unsettlingly close relationship as siblings which amplifies the horror that ensues. Berreiro and Caro conform to the mother and father horror archetypes flawlessly — with father in denial, looking for tangible causes, and mother being misconstrued as insane as she chases demons.
Out of the gate, you know how the film will end — or at least you can make an educated guess. But the execution sets it far apart from similar productions. Great writing, a stellar cast, clever cinematography, and inventive direction it one of the most memorable horror film of recent years. Nothing is off limits here. Here Comes the Devil embraces the very best that horror and its sub-genres has to offer.
This post was originally published on The Daily BLAM! on September 16, 2012.