In Demián Rugna ‘s WHEN EVIL LURKS, when brothers Pedro (Ezequiel Rodríguez) and Jimmy (Demián Salomón) discover that a demonic infection has been festering in a nearby farmhouse — its very proximity poisoning the local livestock — they attempt to evict the victim from their land.
Failing to adhere to the proper rites of exorcism, their reckless actions inadvertently trigger an epidemic of possessions across their rural community. Now they must outrun an encroaching evil as it corrupts and mutilates everyone it is exposed to, and enlist the aid of a wizened “cleaner,” who holds the only tools that can stop this supernatural plague.
For the home release of WHEN EVIL LURKS, Nightmarish Conjurings’ Shannon McGrew spoke with writer-director Demián Rugna. Throughout the course of their conversation, they discussed how his country’s agricultural practices helped influence the story behind WHEN EVIL LURKS, what motivates him to continue pushing boundaries within horror, and how working with children can be a little tricky.
Thank you so much for speaking with me today, Demián. This is one of my favorite films of the year. I thought it was fantastic. What inspired the story?
Demián Rugna: I moved out of the city [about] an hour to a rural place, and the things that I see inspire me all the time. I get [ideas] during my trips. On the road in my car, I saw in the landscape, far away from the distance, little houses, living in poverty. At another time, I tried to imagine what happened with these people, with this family and what kind of problems they had, and what would happen if there was a possessed guy. What if a demon was inside the body of one of the family members? I’m always trying to imagine what happens in the middle of nowhere. Things usually happen in the city. I guess this is the first thing that influenced my story.
Another thing that influenced it is something similar. In my country, you have a lot of land with plantations. The pesticides are contaminating everything, and after one, or two hours of driving, the land is owned by one person who doesn’t even live in the country. But the pesticides are making the people who work in those fields ill, and they’re always people who live in poverty. They’ve grown up with the cancer. They’re giving birth to children with cancer and these people are not given information by the authorities about this because the owner of the land is opposed to people knowing. I guess that idea, to say okay, they are living with the illness, with the disease all the time and they don’t have any options. That idea gives us a natural monster. It’s not just one thing that influenced me. It’s a lot of ideas that came from my real life.
That is a great jumping-off point. Typically, possession movies center around religion, but yours didn’t have that conventional path of saying this is a religious experience. Was that intentional?
Demián Rugna: You mean religious?
Demián Rugna: I kill the religion. There’s no religion in my movies. I am a horror fan. I’ve been a horror fan since I was a teenager, but I’m a huge fan of horror movies as you see. But always, I hate the repetition. I hate franchises. It is the same. I’m trying to go the other way. The other way is okay, I’m going to make an Exorcist movie without the exorcism, without the religion, and I need to create the rules. I need to create this world.
I’m a director, where I write my own stories and, in my stories, I’m always trying to create my own universe. I guess it is my style, to create over something that exists but trying to get something fresh. As a horror fan, I tried to go the other way. Probably if a studio came and said, “Okay, Demián, let’s go to make an exorcist movie or go to make a slasher movie this way,” I would say, I don’t want to make it this way. “Okay, you are not the director of our film.” I don’t know. My style is trying to make something fresh and different.
I absolutely love that, and what I also love is your unapologetic approach to gore, especially regarding children. It’s great because it’s such a taboo subject in horror. What motivates you to consistently push the boundaries of what we typically see in horror films?
Demián Rugna: Well, I don’t like horror movies that try to be polite. I don’t like horror movies that try to be corny. For me, the emotion or the sense of the emotion comes from fear and comes from the concept that everything could happen in your story and you as an audience are not safe. And when I create, I’m the God who decides who lives and who dies. But for me, I want to give the audience the experience that everything that is going to happen will happen. Take care and hold on because you are not watching a commercial movie. You’re watching a Demián Rugna movie, and everything can happen.
I don’t know if producers are going to allow me to keep doing things this way. But I did it. I got the chance to do it and, for me, it’s a real goal. It’s not easy to make these kinds of movies. Not only from the technical perspective, but it’s also not easy to find producers or studios to allow these kinds of projects. And that is when I take the chance. I put my cards there [on the table] and give horror fans the chance to see a movie that you probably don’t see in commercial theaters.
Oh, that’s definitely right. What were some of the challenges you faced during the production of the film?
Demián Rugna: Well, the big challenge was in the beginning. With the scene with the adults, I took a lot of time trying to plan, but in the process, the hardest part of shooting this movie was the regulations from the government with the children. It’s hard to make a horror movie with children. Not only in regular movies but in horror movies with children, you need to keep the violence away from the kids.
So, you need to shoot a horror movie without violence happening to the kids. I mean, the kid cannot have a gun in his hands. They can’t have blood on them. And there are a lot of rules on the times when you can work with them. When you are shooting a horror movie, it affects the time, and you only can shoot probably three hours per day. Then you need to plan everything, not just the shoot. We need to shoot the children first, and then you have to plan the day, to the hour. Regulation with the kids was the most intense part of the movie.
That dog thing had me laughing so hard but not like because I thought it was funny, but because I was like, horrified. It’s so good.
Demián Rugna: Thank you. I love it when the scare finally gets a laugh.
Yes. I’m that person. And my last question for you is how do you think your film will resonate with hardcore horror fans and general moviegoers?
Demián Rugna: It’s not for kids. But I guess it’s not just a hardcore movie. You’re going to find drama. You’re going to find a story with extraordinary performances from the actors. I have a story to tell. It’s not just violent. It is not just hardcore gore. It’s a story of horror, but you have a story. If you have little children, it’ll probably affect you. But if you are watching a horror movie, you are exposed. If you are watching a horror movie from me, you are overexposed.
WHEN EVIL LURKS will be streaming exclusively on Shudder on October 27, 2023.
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