"Devil Lives Here' Oozes Folklore and Ill Omens, Lacks Sense

Directed by: Rodrigo Gasparini and Dante Vescio; Runtime: 80 minutes
Grade: C

From the works of Lynch and Jodorowski to less widespread indies, filmmakers have ensured that their genre creations can have a lot of impact and resonance without, well, making a whole lot of sense. Particularly, when one reaches deep into the well of the supernatural and psychological, there are elements beyond fathom and comprehension that can be used to grasp onto explicit and innovative moods that could unsettle the audience on a deeper level. Brazil's The Devil Lives Here (O Diabo Mora Aqui) gets half of the formula right for making a functionally bizarre piece of work, engineering a raucous descent into supernatural collisions and worsening psychosis as a foursome of teenagers meddle in forces outside their comprehension. What co-directors Rodrigo Gasparini and Dante Vescio lack, however, is a sense of purpose to bind their outlandishness together, manifesting in a dark occult thriller with little to it beyond a straightforward premise and muddled happenings that suffer due to their lack of cohesiveness.

The Devil Lives Here begins like many other horror flicks do, depicting a group of late-teens, early-twentysomethings taking a road trip into the middle of the countryside. An eclectic group, they include a pair of free-spirited cousins, Jorge (Diego Goullart) and Magu (Clara Verdier), and the girlfriend of one of ‘em, Alexandra (Mariana Cortines), who struggles with mental illness if she's off her meds. Shortly after they arrive at their destination, a rickety old farmhouse with a creepy basement and plenty of floors through which bad things can happen, their host Apolo (Pedro Carvalho) shines a light on the real reason they've all gathered there: to release a benevolent spirit from being bound to the house, which he plans to do through a ritual in, of course, the basement. Naturally, when they meddle in the affairs of the outer realm, the situation goes sideways and the true nature of the spirits residing in the house comes to the surface, revealing a history of beekeepers, slaves, and centuries-old curses -- revealed in flashbacks alongside the modern-era story -- that collide around the young group of meddlers.

The parallel stories in The Devil Lives Here that take place in the past and the present have been clearly designed to build toward a collision point, with the hope that each side possesses enough intrigue to hold one's attention until that happens. As if they're hoping to telegraph a few shocks later on, directors Gasparini and Vescio stick with a willfully enigmatic approach to each side of the story, concealing truths as one dabbles in the naivete of youthful occult shenanigans and the other revels in oppressive tones centered on a lordly Honey Baron's (Ivo Muller) pursuits. Folklore, worship, and partial intersections of significance between the timelines clump together into a shot-in-the-dark mystery, one that seems like it'll eventually reward those who stick with what's going on. Even with robust performances pushing it forward and a decidedly familiar and gritty indie attitude, there's such a drawn-out, enigmatic gap between the two narratives that one's patience begins to run thin before they entwine and become the intriguing beast of the film's intents.

A strong current of mood in The Devil Lives Here does keep the scenario moving at a vigorous pace, fueled by dim, atmospheric cinematography capturing the growingly anxious faces of the teens, reveling in its own visceral ominousness and electrified anticipation of what's to be unleashed in the farmhouse. Despite the general effectiveness of this mood, however, the ways in which Gasparini and Vescio orchestrate the actual emergence of metaphysical forces and the shifting perceptions of the mentally unstable woman leaves their film in a chaotic and unconsolidated state. Reminiscent of Raimi's Evil Dead and, notably, Ti West's House of the Devil -- without the playful ‘80s charms of its leadup -- the ending veers in stark and unexpected directions involving demonic practices and deceits, yet the shocks aren't profound or provocative enough to make one give up on about trying to connect the dots behind what's happening. By the end of its short, occasionally brutal time with the audience, The Devil Lives Here reaffirms its title without properly tying together its bold abstractions, proving too esoteric and senseless for its own good.

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