For Fantastic Fest year 7, director Adrian Garcia Bogliano brought his feature film Penumbra about a female lawyer desperately attempting to rent out a flat she owns to an even more desperate (auspiciously so) man claiming that his employer will pay a sum of money far exceeding that of which the flat is worth. The story then becomes a mystery as to the intentions of the employer and the mystery was well executed in keeping the audience’s attention all the way to an non-fulfilling climax. In this, Bogliano makes good on the promise of the well-constructed mystery of his last feature while ensuring he doesn’t fizzle his way to the ending.
Also unlike his last picture Here Comes the Devil doesn’t feel quite as cheap as its budget would suggest. Even in its explicit B-movie motifs — the rapid close-up during the most mundane moments, and a high amount of gratuitous nudity and sex — the sense is there that it isn’t a grown up child behind the camera. Not completely, anyway. He can follow up a scene with a married couple having a heavy, undisturbed fondling session at a truck stop while reminiscing on teenage sexual encounters for arousal (while their two kids are off exploring an ominous hillside) with another scene where the two worried parents have a sincere spat about who is to blame for their kids going missing on that ominous hillside. It’s a well-performed moment of two struggling parents letting pent up thoughts of each other explode while they try and defend themselves from blame in what would be a heavily worrisome situation.
The parents are thankfully reunited with their missing children the following morning, which leads to the true meat of the story at hand. The nearly pre-pubescent siblings return from their alone time on the hillside as shells of their former selves. They have no life in their existence and they aren’t moved by anything normally reactionary towards kids their age, all to the alarm of their concerned parents; more so their mother(played with fierceness and sympathy by actress Laura Caro) who learns more about the truth of their time up on the hillside alone than she ever bargained for.
The rest of the picture is followed by much of the same kind of juxtaposition of gratuitously graphic material against a more grown up approach to the horror genre. One minute you’re seeing two attractive women having carnal relations (and it’s literally within one minute of the film’s start time) and the next they’re having a deep conversation about things a couple in love would have; and that happens almost just as fast. While Here Comes the Devil may contain more of its midnight movie roots than its arthouse influences (Picnic at Hanging Rock‘s eeriness comes to mind, but hopefully not because I don’t know any other films that involve haunted rock formations), the fact that it contains both and weaves them together well enough to not feel too much of either is a testament to a filmmaker and cast that knows when too much gratuity is too much to take seriously; and too little seriousness is not enough to make us care about any of the horrors experienced.
The Upside: Strong lead performances and a surprising amount of maturity for a film that veers more into exploitative territory. Also a much stronger denouement than Bogliano’s last film and leaves you satisfied more than wanting.
The Downside: Could have used just a tad more restraint. One moment in particular seemed unnecessarily graphic to the detriment of the picture.
On the Side: The title of this new feature seems appropriate as an almost direct response to the notion that Penumbra was very similar in atmosphere to Ti West’s film House of the Devil, which opened the year before. “You want the devil? Well, then here he comes!!” is what I’d imagine filmmaker Bogliano saying angrily as he wrote the script for Here Comes the Devil. At me. Because I said that.