A Chat with Demián Rugna writer/director of the best Possession flick of 2023: WHEN EVIL LURKS

After a limited theatrical engagement, the visceral Argentinian possession flick When Evil Lurks is hitting Shudder just in time for Halloween. The film generated a ton of well deserved buzz on the festival circuit, with its fresh take on the well-tread sub-genre and is here to do something a bit different. It manages to do just this right out of the gate by taking God out of the equation. This one change, oddly, sets in motion some very rich world building, since it’s what’s inferred with this that really imbues the premise with some very intriguing subtext. Writer/director Demián Rugna then spends the film dropping more and more bread crumbs in between some truly garishly brutal set pieces that continue to build the bigger story around the nightmarish events that unfold on screen. 

As far as horror releases go in 2023, few come close to Lurks in my book, even that other reboot/sequel to the film that started it all. It’s as gnarly as it is intelligent in how it never does anything that feels arbitrary or not with some implicit purpose in its nihilistic narrative.  I actually saw this film after I failed to get into a screening at Fantastic Fest this year because every screening was essentially sold out. So expectations were very present for this story of two brothers who are hunted down by a bloodthirsty entity after not abiding by the rules of the possession, causing it to spread throughout their small rural community. Not for the squeamish, the film is as gory as it is dense with metaphors and that’s not an easy combo to come by.

In anticipation for its Shudder drop last week I got a few minutes to speak with writer/director Demián Rugna about the project. English wasn’t his first language, but we still managed to talk about not only what inspired the film, but what he has in store for this world next, which I can’t wait to revisit. 

What was the development of the script like and what prompted you to want to make a possession film?

Demián Rugna: We have a lot of fields in my country, a lot of plantations, and they are contaminated by pesticides. Those pesticides have left  the workers on those lands with a lot of diseases. They are usually poor people, and I thought, what about if instead of cancer, these poor people who live in this condition have a demon? That was my first step in the genesis of this script. 

I love the idea of making a possession movie, but without religion, but trying to find a different way to do exorcism, and make it almost impossible.

Speaking of which, one of the first things that sets this film apart is the fact that, you’ve disconnected God from the exorcism genre. Are you religious at all?

Demián Rugna: No, not at all. Nothing of religion in my life. I hate religion. 

I do believe there’s something over us, from beyond. But I’m not a guy who has a God or saints. I belong to a Catholic culture. My country, all Latin America is Catholic. But I’m not inspired by religion. I’m inspired by movies that have religion. (laughs)

Courtesy of Nicolas Colaneri.

Well, that said taking God out of the picture, you managed to insinuate through dialogue and circumstances some intriguing bits of world building. Does that history exist somewhere? 

Demián Rugna: I tried to show this world as it already existed. I mean, when you watch Star Wars, you start in the middle of the mythology, not in the beginning of how the empire destroyed the rebels. You’re in the middle and that’s what I tried to, start in the middle of this trouble. Everyone knows there’s a myth, and I guess it works and you as the audience, minute by minute need the information. And I am giving it to you in little pieces, in dialogue, in action.

And I guess it works.

It works well! Are we gonna get to see the other pieces to the story? Are we gonna get a sequel? 

Demián Rugna: Yeah. There’s a lot of studios that want to explore this world. I don’t know if I will be part of this world though going forward. I hope so, because I invented it, and I know where I am going, because I’m the owner of it. 

I appreciate that while the violence is brutal, it’s really only used to accentuate or illustrate certain points in the film; it’s not gratuitous. So how did you choose when to deal out that violence? 

Demián Rugna: I tried to make a different movie, one that I am terrified of. It’s still a horror movie, but not a jump scare movie.

But the idea is to prepare the audience for something really cruel. Evil is coming. All the characters are afraid of what is going to happen. When it finally happens, the idea is okay, this is the first stop in this journey into hell.

Now, do you have rules set up for this sort of evil, for this “rotten”, do you have a bible if you will, or are you still building that?

Demián Rugna: No, I’m still building that (laughs). I have a lot of abstract ideas, but I need to control that because I need to make it understandable in the movie.

Finally, I really enjoyed the Father/Son angle in the movie, and how you have a male protagonist, but he is still vulnerable and relatable. This role is usually for a final girl, why change up the formula?

Demián Rugna: Thank you for the observation. I decided to make this character a male, because whether he is demon hunting or running away from the real demons – at the same time, this is a man who is running away from his inner demons. He has a really bad past. He is already damaged, and all the people think he’s crazy. He’s running away from the demon, but his demon is in his head. He cannot run away from himself and Ezequiel Rodríguez really transformed that character onscreen (for the role).

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