Adrián García Bogliano's Here Comes the Devil is what would happen if psychological terror and weird sex shit came to a Mentos commercial. Stilted as fuck, fueled on pregnant pauses and eyeball acting that makes virtually every character appear to have a thyroid condition, the movie revels in the kind of unnaturalness the '70s schlock it so admires could only settle for. It's smart-dumb: buffoonery at its sleekest and most stylish.
I hate to recap plots—because come on, who cares—but this one is bonkers enough to at least go through the first act. After we watch two teen girls make out and grind on each other to heavy metal in the opening sequence, they hear what's clearly insistent, murder-signaling knocking on the door. The one who answers it gets killed by a serial killer. Of course she does. The burgeoning lesbian (or young woman going through her bi phase) that doesn't get killed bludgeons him, which causes him to drop the bag of fingers he's carrying, take all his clothes off, and die (outside on a hill). That will have nothing to do with the rest of the movie for about an hour, but it sure is a fun and titillating greeting.
Meanwhile, a family sits on a desert, the parents a few yards away from their son and daughter. The daughter gets her period and she and her brother freak out, but then her mother explains to her it's normal and takes her to a public rest room, whose door she leaves wide fucking open so a weird guy who looks like of like melted Trent Reznor can leer in at the first-bloodied panties on the counter. He is caught and averts his eyes in a very exaggerated manner, but the mother doesn't close the door. He will come back later, too, but not for a while.
The children decide they want to go up to a cave near the gas station where the mother took her daughter to the bathroom. The parents are like, "OK," because they are fine with letting their barely teenaged children hike up to a gnarly, exploitation-movie looking cave in Tijuana where it seems that their best case scenario will involve an interaction with people dressed in giant felt costumes like those you'd see on H.R. Pufnstuf. Apparently, the parents just wanted the chance to discuss their early experiences with sex (they're just now getting to it despite having clearly been married for upward of 15 years). While they trade stories, the father fingers the mother in their car ("Then I smelled it. It smelled like pee," he says of the first vagina he ever encountered way back when). The parents collapse in the afterglow of the mother's orgasm. When they wake up, it is dark and the children still aren't back.
This leads to a few interactions with some weird, murder-y locals and a half-hearted attempt to call the kids from the bottom of the cave. The parents go to their hotel room, where they bicker. The next morning, they leave their hotel and the cop they met the night before brings their kids back. All seems normal. They go to the movies, the mother is sitting on one side of the children, the father on the other. The mother looks at the father, the father looks at the mother. They slowly smile. Mentos. The freshmaker.
But then, it becomes clear that everything is not normal. The kids are fucked up. Were they molested? Are they doing it with each other? This movie is called Here Comes the Devil, so is it the devil? Are they the devil? Are they coming this way? Are they going to come off the screen and sit in my lap and make me tell them about my first sexual experience?
This movie is often goofy, but the intrigue runs thick regardless. I never stopped wanted to see what the fuck ridiculous thing it was going to throw at me next. It intensifies at certain points into shockingly brutal violence, and is more effective for being so felicitous about that. Without going excessive and taking a torture-porn turn, this movie shows you that it means business and isn't just some jump-scare-loaded, soft-R-for scary bullshit.
I emailed the director to ask about the structure. "I think every element must serve a purpose," he wrote back, "and you have to be careful of not overkill anything that you use. I don't think there's a limit to use the gore I just think you need to figure out how to keep the interest of the audience and go one step beyond on your next set piece. In this movie the gore serves a very specific purpose but I was sure that what I had to show after, was even more intense but for different reasons. I was talking the other day about that with Eugenio Mira, who directed the absolutely awesome Grand Piano and it's a perfect example of how you can keep the interest of the audience if you know how to create a progression on something that otherwise could be very repetitive."
This I agree with—as the mother hunts for clues as to what happened to her children up on the hill to make them so fucked up and what's going on with them now, the movie slows down. But it's never boring. Here Comes the Devil is way too out of its head to ever be boring, from the outlandish plot developments to the conveniently vague script ("I saw someone...I can't describe it") to the perpetually zooming camera (I mean, the thing just keeps giving you zooming shots of everything, but chiefly hills and eyes).
Here Comes the Devil has more personality than any horror movie I've seen this year. Granted, 2013 was underwhelming—the only bona fide horror phenomenon was the old-school, by-the-numbers haunted house story The Conjuring. The next highest grossing were similarly themed Insidious Chapter 2 and Mama. Miserable ghosts hanging around and complaining everywhere you look. This genre is musty as old curtains.
Now, there were a few under-the-radar offerings I enjoyed. You're Next was a blast. The V/H/S franchise is thrilling in the sheer number of new ideas it puts forth onscreen and the velocity in which it does it. I thought Franck Khalfoun's Manaic remake was gorgeous and ingeniously choreographed, an extremely clever way of incorporating a POV aesthetic without doing the found-footage thing. And underneath its domestic-drama sheen, Jim Mickle's We Are What We Are was the most disgusting and disturbing movie of the year (and I'm including the hyper-gory Evil Dead remake in my estimation, though I also enjoyed that one, too).
But nothing was as hilariously off-the-wall and hardcore fucked up as Here Comes the Devil. I don't think it's a great movie – part of its charm is camp appeal. But I think that Bogliano knows what he's doing, and that one day soon he will, in fact, make great movies. Here he comes.