The most memorable indie horror films almost always manage to push some boundaries or, at least, venture into places that some may consider brutal, disturbing, or simply distasteful. When an audacious independent horror-maker produces something like Martyrs, A Serbian Film, or The Human Centipede (the first one, anyway), we celebrate (in part) because a team of filmmakers had a strange, dark vision and (more importantly) had the courage to put something "dangerous" up on the movie screen. Even when the "over-the-top but we do have a point" approach goes awry (I'll spare you two dozen examples; feel free to choose your own), a horror-loving viewer can still appreciate the effort.
Fortunately the new import from Mexico known as Here Comes the Devil falls into the group of old-school, dead-serious horror stories that delve into some legitimately unsavory places. Although it's ostensibly a "killer kids" movie on the exterior, Here Comes the Devil also touches on a wide array of subtextual terrors involving human sexuality, the occult, and the simple dangers of not paying close attention to your children. It's a fascinating, even confrontational, horror film from Adrian Bogliano, and while I liked his last two films (Cold Sweat and Penumbra), I'd call this one a decidedly braver and angrier piece of horror cinema. One could even expect a (highly neutered) American remake popping up in a year or two.
Although certainly not what you'd call a densely-plotted film, Here Comes the Devil wanders off in a few compelling directions, so let's keep the plot synopsis to a minimum: a family of four is driving through Tijuana, and during a rest stop the kids head off to play on a nearby hill while mom and dad stay back in the car to play some grown-up games. Pre-teen Sara and little Adolfo fail to return after their 90-minute deadline, which leaves dad Felix and mom Sol besides themselves with worry, fear, and guilt. The children pop right back up the next morning, fortunately, but (of course) that's when all the trouble starts. Were the kids lost? Hiding? Kidnapped? Neither of the youths are much help in the explanation department, and eventually they all head home.
Since this is a horror film, you can safely assume that the kids didn't just take a nap under the stars, and the fun of the first half of Here Comes the Devil is in discovering the truth(s) along with the parents. (It takes some time, but it's still a dark and devious journey.) The title of the film does offer a clue as to the sort of scary tale we're dealing with, but Mr. Bogliano does an impressive job of getting several different strains of horror DNA into what could have been a very basic tale about careless parents and evil children. As diversions to the central story we're offered A) an effectively chilling subplot about the gruesome fate of a local child stalker, B) a fair dose of traditional "occult" moments to keep things from getting dull (one flashback in particular really creeped me out), and C) a few basic but well-played moments between Sol and a suspicious detective.
Whether or not the filmmakers go "too far" with their juxtaposition of frank sexuality and the occult in direct relation to two young children, well, that's up to the individual viewer. What one horror fan may see as a tasteless step too far, another may appreciate it as a short, sharp shock of unsettling thematic cojones. (Obviously you'll find me among the latter group.) This is a confident, strange, and (yes) audacious piece of straight-faced, '70s-style horror cinema that's supported by a fantastic musical score and anchored by a fantastic lead performance by Laura Caro. You won't believe what this poor mom has to go through.