New horror flick rises above low-budget roots

At first, Argentinean writer-director Adrián García Bogliano’s “Here Comes the Devil” looks and sounds like a Mexican “Paranormal Activity” meets David Lynch (“Blue Velvet,” “Twin Peaks”). But this strangely atmospheric film set in the heavily American-influenced city of Tijuana is better than that.

Compact and low-budget, early scenes in Bogliano’s 98-minute Spanish-language horror flick include the normality of a couple and their two preteen children on a weekend getaway. Something wicked comes their way. Bogliano accelerates the rising dread slowly, expertly, but also interrupts that gradualness, interjecting isolated scenes of bestial brutality.

Following an opening sequence that mixes guilt-ridden sex and crazed brutality, the film’s principal characters are given a calm, innocent introduction. Parents Felix (Francisco Barreiro) and Sol (Laura Caro) and their children Sara (Michele Garcia) and Adolfo (Alan Martinez) are on a picnic in the sand dunes of Baja California.

On the way home, the family stops at a gas station. The children ask their parents if they can go into the nearby rocky hills. The hour that Sara and Adolfo’s mother tells them they can stay in the hills becomes hours. The children’s parents fall asleep in their car. By the time they awaken, it’s night. Sara and Adolfo have not returned.

The gas station manager admonishes the distressed parents. “Nobody should go up there,” he tells them. “There’s something wrong with that place.” The Indians believed the mountain was cursed, the man says.

The next morning a police car arrives at the hotel where Felix and Sol spent a troubled night.

Sara and Adolfo are with them. “We were in a cave,” Sara tells her mother. “It was so dark.”

The children’s mother soon suspects something terrible happened during the night on the mountain. “Here Comes the Devil” becomes a detective story and Sol leads the investigation.

Laura Caro, a Mexican singing star and former Azteca Americana TV host, makes her feature film debut as Sol. Because Sol is the children’s mother, her investigation is no ordinary, objective investigation. Caro does much of the movie’s emotional dramatic lifting. As a mother pushed to the edge, she’s never less than compelling.

Playing the children’s father, Francisco Barreiro, a stage and film actor from Mexico City, also is called to descend into the infectious evil that Bogliano weaves around the family. The age-appropriate Michele Garcia and Alan Martinez co-star as Sara and Adolfo. While their generally robotic roles don’t require much acting, the young actors slyly express evil. Giancarlo Ruiz’s whispering police detective, however, is weirdly funny.

“Here Comes the Devil,” lacking the financial resources of even modestly budgeted Hollywood horror films, suffers slightly from its low-budget restrictions. At the same time, the demon-spawned freak out that Sara and Adolfo’s babysitter experiences is retro psychedelics at its finest.

The Spanish-language “Here Comes the Devil” is Bogliano’s first American co-production. The idiosyncratic jagged-meets-subtle style the 33-year-old filmmaker demonstrates in his Mexican horror story suggests we’ll be seeing more of his nightmares.