When Sol (Laura Caro) allowed her children, son Adolfo (Alan Martinez) and daughter Sara (Michele Garcia), to navigate a rocky hillside in Tijuana by themselves, it was on the condition that they return after an hour and a half. They would not end up returning until the following morning, by which point Sol and her husband, Felix (Francisco Barreiro), had already grown frantic and involved the local police. Upon the family’s return to their home, it immediately becomes apparent that kids aren’t behaving as they once did. They’ve become detached and secretive, never providing an answer that consists of more than one or two words and inexplicably becoming underhanded.
Both Sol and Felix remember specific details they each noticed the day their kids disappeared, and a theory is formulated on the basis of that information. Despite the fact that it’s only a theory, there’s evidence to support it, and so mom and dad immediately take action.
But is the situation as simple as they believe it to be? Or are darker, more sinister forces at work? One of the hallmarks of Here Comes the Devil is its unwillingness to provide us with any definite answers. Instead, it repeatedly hints, teases, and shocks with vague allusions and terrifying possibilities, the vast majority of which are visceral in nature. The story is always reversing itself, challenging what we think we know even after the final shot. This means that if you leave the theater certain of what has happened and when and why and to whom, you probably weren’t paying attention. One cannot rationalize the sequence of events any more than one can categorize the film into a specific subgenre of thriller, be it psychological or supernatural. To do so would indicate an understanding of something not meant to be understood.
Let us consider the psychological overtones. There are the traditional narrative techniques, seen most prominently in frightening, odd scenes when neither we nor the characters are sure if anything that seemed to happen really did happen. But there are also undercurrents of sex and sexuality, and they appear so often that I’m forced to consider that they’re symbolic of something and not merely included to be sensationalistic. The film opens with a lesbian love scene, which then transitions to one of the women getting beaten within an inch of her life by a man with a machete, who chops off several of her fingers before running into the hills naked and covered with blood. There’s also Sara’s first ever period, Adolfo asking his father questions about menstruation, Felix and Sol getting explicitly hot and heavy as they sit in their car, and the moment when they shower together and wash each other off after … a busy night’s work. And then there’s a moment between brother and sister that gives Sol pause.
Now let us consider the supernatural overtones. As the title makes perfectly clear, there are discussions about satanic possession, and specific scenes give us momentary visual depictions. Or maybe they don’t – and for that, please refer to the previous paragraph. The story is also rife with references to local legends, specifically in regards to the hill Adolfo and Sara scaled. There’s an entrance to a cave, and it’s said that every time someone goes in, an earthquake occurs, after which the person emerges possessed. Indeed, we see two earthquakes in this film, and they are accompanied by characters entering the cave. You may ask what’s in there, although I don’t think I can answer that. It does in part have to do with not wanting to spoil the plot, but mostly, it has to do with the fact that I don’t believe we can take anything we see in there at face value. The secrets it contains could really be nothing more than illusions.
Sol eventually begins to suspect that her children, who have been skipping school and trekking back to the cave on a regular basis, may not actually be her children anymore. What is she to make of nightly paranormal occurrences, in which it appears that the lights are flickering and that Sara is floating above her bed? Felix is convinced that the noises accompanying these occurrences are caused by people throwing rocks at their house in retaliation for … something he and Sol did. But even he isn’t able to make sense of what’s plainly visible in the cave. Neither are we. Nor, for that matter, can we make sense of the final scene, in which Felix appears to do something before doing something else with Sol at his side. Perhaps the local legends are true. Or perhaps they’re not. In either case, the story is constructed in such a way that nothing operates logically.
Here Comes the Devil is a strange and frustrating film, but it’s also absorbing. The title alone is open to several fascinating interpretations. It could be that Satan himself truly has found his way into our world. Then again, it could be that Felix and Sol are a collective devil, their actions early in the film motivated more by selfish rage than by selflessness on behalf of their children. Taking a religious angle, the depictions of and allusions to sex can also be viewed devilishly, especially since almost every sexual act precedes a horrific turn of events. Why would Adolfo and Sara not merely hold hands but interlace their fingers as they walk side by side? Why after her first period would Sara have already lost her hymen? Why would a woman be attacked after having sex with another woman? I could ask these questions all day long, but I’m fairly certain I wasn’t meant to know the answers.
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