Tapping into the revisionist-horror trend that’s offered a cozy respite from mainstream jump-scare fests, Adrián García Bogliano opts for a more precise form of presentation in Here Comes the Devil. This means an initial filthy tease—a sprinkling of graphic sex followed by the requisite brutal murder—before a long stretch of tension and confusion, much of it about what kind of scary story this is going to become. The problem is that this downtime seems less like lead-up than a forestalling of inevitable disappointment, and the film is eventually revealed to be less interested in subverting or playing off its influences than rigorously retracing them.
Following that introductory bit of gore, the main story here concerns a family outing among the rocky landscape of Northern Mexico, which goes awry after the two young children disappear. They’re eventually found unharmed, but their return comes with the unsettling sense that something is off, as parents Felix (Francisco Barreiro) and Sol (Laura Caro) discover other odd discrepancies about that day. Here the film points generally to the mystery formats of many giallos, as well as Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock, especially in the portrayal of the Earth itself as a mysterious malevolent force. There’s promise in this setup, and even more so in the measured patience Bogliano exhibits in establishing the unease that gradually takes over this household. He also appears to be setting up some kind of elaborate sexual allegory, with a running series of overt metaphors, from the children’s disappearance in a particularly vaginal cave to the intercutting of that disappearance with some impromptu car sex by their parents. The connection seems to be confirmed by the introduction of a local pedophile as a criminal suspect and suggestions of ancestral behavior between the two siblings, who become creepily attached to one another after their brief disappearance.
But these pieces never come close to cohering, and Here Comes the Devil instead collapses into a muddle of hokum about paranoia and demon possession, the sexual element feeing like a mere enticement to string us along until the concluding theatrics. Bogliano clearly has a sense of style, busting out split diopter effects and refreshingly balanced compositions, but it unfortunately doesn’t extend to an adequate understanding of how to stage effective horror sequences.
This means the film is fine when laying groundwork, but in attempting to develop from merely disconcerting to actively frightening, it falls apart, settling for cheap funhouse scare tactics: shaky cameras, flickering lights, and loud noises. This unsteadiness collides head-on with tonal issues that have been festering throughout, as Bogliano seems unsure of whether to embrace his obvious cheapo-horror influences or make light of them, meaning that snap zooms and other cheesy effects are tossed onto the screen with a jarring lack of concern for the effect they have. It’s indicative of the scant consideration that mars much of the film’s later sections, and while Here Comes the Devil at least establishes one half of a good horror movie, it spends the rest of its time squandering that initial promise.