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'My Encounter with Evil' asks questions without looking for answers

Television

‘My Encounter with Evil’ asks questions without looking for answers

It’s almost like *gasp* they just wanted to push the spectacle.

Netflix evidently decided to dress up as the Travel Channel this year for Halloween, because its latest docuseries, My Encounter with Evil, is more like an encounter with Ghost Adventures, featuring allegedly true events paired alongside dramatic (i.e. ridiculous) reenactments complete with spooky ambient music, heavy use of dark shadows, and cheesy special effects. The end result is anything but convincing.

'My Encounter with Evil' asks questions without looking for answers

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The four-part series follows the tales of three women purportedly possessed by demonic entities. First, My Encounter with Evil presents us with the story of Sully and Jessica Urbina. Jessica describes a troubled childhood in which, “I was the girl who spent her time reading and drawing,” and was treated differently by her teachers and ostracized, teased, and even beaten up by her classmates for being “crazy,” something which, “made me feel as if there was something very bad with me.” Jessica would wake up with bruises, bites, and scratches, which, if the reenactments are anything to go by,were located where thy could have been self-inflicted. I’m not saying they were, just that they physically could have been.

The second case follows Andrea, Esther, and Concepción Olvera, as they discuss their mother, Coni, and her experience with possession. According to Andrea and Concepción, what led to Coni being possessed was the anxiety and depression surrounding her divorce, along with a neighbor’s dabbling in the Ouija board. Coni explains (over a dramatic reenactment) having been terrified of the neighbor’s dog after seeing its eyes turn red one night — a sure sign of demonic possession.

Without knowing more details, it’s difficult to rule out more prosaic explanations, such as infection, a foreign object, or the fact that canines, like many animals from cats to cattle, have eyes which possess a light-reflecting surface called the tapetum lucidum, and in some dogs, particularly ones with white coats and blue eyes, their eyes can give off a red-eye effect at night due to the reflection of blood vessels in light. Then again, Coni also claimed to have witnessed her daughter’s dolls smiling at her with the same glowing red eyes, something neither of the girls could see.

The last case presented in My Encounter with Evil revolves around Florencia Macías and her boyfriend, Pablo, as they move into an apartment with Florencia’s two daughters. As Florencia and Pablo begin contemplating having a a child of their own, both Florencia and her younger daughter, Emma, begin seeing visions of a little girl, while doors open and close by themselves and lights flicker on and off; all phenomena which are consistent with classic reports of poltergeist activity. It’s important to note that Emma didn’t mention anything about seeing a little girl until after her mother did. Could this be a case of folie á deux? That’s at least as the alternative, supernatural explanation.

Ultimately, My Encounter with Evil does nothing to provide compelling evidence of demonic possession, nor does it even really try. While it does feature interviews with several mental health experts, such as Ruth Alcala Lozano and Marco Antonio Ávila Olvera, both from the National Institute of Psychiatry, little time is given to possible psychiatric explanations. The viewer gets the impression the two psychiatrists were asked their opinions jusgt so that the show would seem unbiased. I reached out to the National Institute of Psychiatry to ask either Lozano or Olvera about their interview, but neither has responded at the time of this writing.

Both the cases of Jessica Urbina and Coni Olvera suggest that mental health played an integral role in their alleged possessions. Whether or not someone chooses to believe this “opened them” to demonic influence or is otherwise sufficient to explain the alleged infernal goings-on is a matter of personal interpretation. In each case, the demoniac and their family had a predisposition to believe in the Devil, yet nothing in My Encounter with Evil raises a red flag over that. Has anyone ever heard of an atheist who becomes possessed? Wouldn’t one expect them to be vulnerable targets?

My Encounter with Evil

While I’m sure these events were upsetting to the people who experienced them, what troubles me the most is that in each case, whether as the family of the demoniac or the demoniac themselves, children were involved. If we suspend our judgment for a moment and consider the possibility that nothing supernatural was going on — that these alleged attacks by demonic spirits were the products of mental illness, fertile imaginations, and/or the power of suggestion — children were innocently led to believe that demonic forces were directly attacking them and endangering their lives.

I find this particularly chilling to contemplate, and indeed, that would make this show an encounter with evil, just not the sort that the producers or cast have in mind.

AIPT Science is co-presented by AIPT and the New York City Skeptics.

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