Studio: Magnet Releasing
Director: Adrian Garcia Bogliano
Writer: Adrian Garcia Bogliano
Producer: Andrea Quiroz Hernandez
Stars: Francisco Barreiro, Laura Caro, Michele Garcia, Alan Martinez, Giancarlo Ruiz, David Cabezud
When their son and daughter are returned after a strange disappearance, a mother and father come to suspect that their children may not be who they seem.
The first time I saw “Here Comes the Devil” was at the Stanley Film Festival in May of 2013, and it was admittedly not under the most favorable conditions. In a curious bit of scheduling, “Here Comes the Devil” was programmed to run concurrently with “Sightseers” (review here), “Maniac” (review here), and a special outdoor screening of “The Shining.” Naturally, most festival attendees were more interested in seeing “The Shining” on the front lawn of the actual hotel that inspired the original story. Those looking for a modern movie opted for “Maniac,” the resulting popularity of which saw it take home an audience award for best feature.
So it was that I found myself almost alone in a theater with just eight other patrons for the “Here Comes the Devil” screening. This also took place shortly after a whiskey tasting event, which put me in a cloudy frame of mind not necessarily appropriate for the more intellectually demanding rigors of watching a cerebral thriller in a foreign language.
I walked out of the cineplex 90 minutes later, confident in my disappointment over a movie not enjoyed, but perplexed at the positive word of mouth that had initially heightened my anticipation. “Here Comes the Devil” was sweeping up acclaim left and right as it made the festival circuit, including wins for Best Picture, Best Screenplay, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Actress at Austin’s Fantastic Fest in 2012. What was it that I missed?
I gave “Here Comes the Devil” the benefit of the doubt that perhaps its potential to impact was unable to fire through a scotch-induced haze of faded inebriation and distracted attention on what time the next party started. With a clear head and a freshly wiped slate of expectations, I took another look several months later. While my appreciation of the film’s merit has increased marginally, my conclusion is still that “Here Comes the Devil” is an over-interpreted example of ambiguity confused for artistry.
After their son Adolfo and daughter Sara go missing in a dark cave on a hillside cursed with rumors of creatures in its depths, parents Sol and Felix are simultaneously relieved, stunned, and confused when their children return the next day seemingly unharmed. Adolfo and Sara begin behaving as shells of their former selves. No one offers any answers, and no one really asks any questions regarding the mystery of what actually happened inside that rock. Whatever did take place, Felix and Sol come to suspect that their children may have been changed in an unfathomable fashion that can never be fully explained.
And that might be because the script does not have a solid explanation to offer anyone. In establishing the smoldering intensity of silently brooding characters, there is impracticality in the intentional absence of communication that is at odds with the ethereal nature of the horror.
The kids never volunteer details of their disappearance. The parents only ask indirectly through vague inferences from a psychologist. When a babysitter goes missing, there is a mild shoulder shrug before the mother eventually follows up an extended time later. When she learns that her children are skipping school, mom opts to not inform her husband or the kids, following the boy and girl from the shadows instead. The way in which characters patently refuse to interact with one another is annoying. It works for the sense of quiet dread that writer/director Adrian Garcia Bogliano wishes to evoke, but the story logic crumbles in its wake.
“Here Comes the Devil” is intended to be a thought-provoking exploration of ideas through cinema, a portrait of intangible concepts as opposed to a traditionally threaded tale. The problem created in the viewer’s perspective is that the psychological mindscape Bogliano generates conflicts with the tangibility of the world.
Subplots are established to present possible explanations for the children’s ordeal involving a missing serial killer, a suspected child molester, and some whispered Indian legends concerning demons. The movie is setting an expectation of being grounded in a tactile reality, but the surreal fantasy weaves a more complex illusion. When the two mindsets meet, the result is frustrated bafflement that those clashing aspects do not mesh together.
Aside from a strange fascination for 70’s-styled whip zooms arriving at sudden and random intervals, “Here Comes the Devil” achieves on a technical level. Great acting can always be measured by how performers convey emotion without dialogue and these leads make deceptively simple roles mesmerizing. As good as the film looks though, it is difficult to look past the notion that its message is confused.
“Here Comes the Devil” has a clear fascination with sex. Why else would it begin with a four-minute lesbian love affair between two characters never seen again for the rest of the film? In addition to those girls’ brief flirtation with shame over their orientation, “Here Comes the Devil” further preoccupies itself with a married couple rekindling youthful lust, a pre-teen’s first encounter with menstruation, and assorted other overtones and instances of nudity suggesting a predominant theme of carnality.
But down the back slope of the movie, “Devil” moves into a drama seemingly about false appearances. People putting up pretenses of living according to illusory expectations. The symbolism and the story structure starts wavering in so many directions that the final conclusion is perhaps Bogliano wants the viewer to come up with a sensible interpretation for him. That would be a reasonable ask if “Here Comes the Devil” offered enough pieces to complete a puzzle, but it seems more like a case where indulgence in directorial style overshadows a substantial narrative with a firmly discernible purpose.
NOTE: The Spanish title of “Here Comes the Devil” is “Ahi va el Diablo.”
Review Score: 65