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Every now and then, a horror filmmaker comes along who doesn't follow conventions. He or she couldn't care less about form or narrative coherence. They're only concerned with disorienting and disturbing the audience. They're the guys and gals one can imagine used to wow film school professors with their completed assignments while firing spitballs at their pretentious classmates. Rather than obsessing over Orson Welles and François Truffaut, they swear by the films of Lucio Fulci, whose penchant for nihilism resulted in gruesome shockers like The Beyond (1981) and The House by the Cemetery (1981).
It's rare to meet a new, young filmmaker who's able to emulate Argento's and Fulci's old anything-goes magic without seeming derivative. But it does happen. Adrián García Bogliano, 33, fits the bill. In a tireless, hardly two-year span, the Argentinian writer-director has completed a trio of rough-around-the-edges but nonetheless fascinating horror films, all of which exhibit an uninhibited filmmaker who's willing to subvert familiar tropes and experiment with presentation. In Cold Sweat (2010), he merged elements of action, comedy, and macabre in a hyper-stylized tale of elders who kill young, beautiful women with nitroglycerin; with Penumbra (2011), Bogliano abandoned the frantic pace of Cold Sweat, kept much of his earlier film's dark humor, and went for the slow burn while following a feisty realtor who gradually plunges into a Satanic nightmare.
With his latest film, Here Comes the Devil (opening in limited theaters and hitting VOD tomorrow), though, Bogliano doesn't want viewers to laugh. Not in the slightest bit. The filmmaker's darkest, and best, movie so far, it's an exercise in escalating dread that defies the seasoned horror fan's expectations. From the opening shot, Bogliano's film is charged with stylistic excess. Evidence that Here Comes the Devil is his boldest attempt to achieve midnight movie infamy, Bogliano opens the film with, just because, two beautiful woman scissoring each other in bed, the sensuality through the roof and the boisterous soundtrack turning the act into something like a rock concert. It's unruly, as is the sudden turn to slaughterhouse theatrics that ends the sequence—before the film's main characters are introduced, Bogliano makes sure to jolt his viewers.
That sense of unpredictability never ceases, even as Bogliano flirts with familiarity by latching onto standard horror movie tropes. The plot centers on a pair of shell-shocked parents, Felix and Sol (Francisco Barreiro and Laura Caro, both of whom give strong performances), try to figure out why their young son and daughter have been acting so strangely since returning from an off-the-beaten-path cave in Tijuana, Mexico. At times, Here Comes the Devil looks and feels like your typical "creepy kid" affair. Staring at their parents with lifeless eyes, the kids follow the scary child motif, but Bogliano has something much more insidious and sexually twisted in mind.
Signaled by that prologue, Here Comes the Devil channels the sex-is-bad themes of '80s slasher movies with reckless abandon. While Felix and Sol let their children run off and play by a sketchy cave in the nearby hills, mommy and daddy get freaky in their car, with mommy's climax happening right as the kids leap into the cave's opening. As on the nose as that montage feels, Bogliano presents it with such bombastic energy that its final impact is hypnotic, not pedestrian.
Here Comes the Devil shows a young director who's still finding himself. Packed with bizarre editing choices, sudden close-ups, and jarring musical cues, it's purposefully off-kilter, and not all of Bogliano's moves connect. When Bogliano nails it, though, Here Comes the Devil is electric. The film's knockout blow comes in the form of a psychedelic flashback sequence in which the kids' babysitter, Marcia (Barbara Perrin Rivemar), recounts that time "the devil stood on [her] chest," undressed her, and unleashed his perverted fury onto her while Felix and Sol were off ripping a potential pedophile's throat out with their bare hands. The scene is phantasmagoric, messy, and mesmerizing.
"Messy" is the operative word when describing Here Comes the Devil, an unwieldy film powered by creative anarchy. It doesn't all congeal. Some of the supporting characters, particularly a detective who seems plucked from a hammy telenovela, performed with heavy-handed camp. Bogliano is also guilty of the old final-scene-of-Psycho sin of over-explaining what's going on beneath the story's surface, a choice that diminishes some of Here Comes the Devil's earlier, engrossing ambiguity. But the overall combined effect of his many odd flourishes conveys a funereal and deranged mood, right down to the final image, a clever supernatural downer that brings to mind Stephen King's Pet Sematary.
Here Comes the Devil isn't 2013's best horror movie. Rob Zombie demonstrates more artistic command in the similarly strange but superior The Lords of Salem; filmmaker Jim Mickle shows far more directorial polish in the poignant cannibal movie We are What We Are; and director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett subvert rehashed horror beats with more ingenuity in the horror-comedy You're Next. But Adrián García Bogliano's film has something else going for it, something that makes Here Comes the Devil worthy of its own superlatives: the kind of free-spirited attitude favors excessive debauchery over fine-tuned craftsmanship. Figurative spitballs and all.
Written by Matt Barone (@MBarone)