The Wretched (2019) Review

Spoiler-free so you can read before you watch

The Wretched (2019) Review

Horrorific content by Jessica Gomez on August 16th, 2020 | Movie Review | Indie Horror, Supernatural, Witchcraft

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Teenage Ben believes that his next-door neighbors have done something evil to their kids. What he unearths is an ancient tale of a witch who feasts on children.

The Wretched was directed by Brett and Drew Pierce and stars Azie Tesfai (from Sutures), Piper CurdaKevin Bigley and John-Paul Howard.

Something wicked wants inside.

The Pierce brothers, who wrote, directed, and produced this supernatural horror film, released The Wretched to an unlikely phenomena - throughout the pandemic, the film made its way through select drive-in theaters nationwide, garnering well-deserved hype and success that many films just aren’t able to achieve right now. This was indie horror done right.

The film begins in 1985, where we first catch a glimpse of the baddie - a creature that looks like a cross between Buhguul from Sinister and a vampire from 30 Days of Night. The nostalgic but gruesome opening scene is just a small entry into a dark and grisly tale that any parent - or curious neighbor - would find a thing of nightmares.

Thirty-five years later, seventeen-year-old Ben goes off to his dad Liam’s for the summer in a Michigan beach town while his parents work through a divorce. He’s constantly torn between doing the right thing and bettering himself, represented in his responsibility at his dad’s marina and with his friendship with coworker Mallory, or giving into temptations of his dark past. The Pierce brothers created a very real dynamic between a father and son who care deeply for each other but are working to trust one another, which makes a later scene that puts their relationship to the test more believable and impactful.

Next door to Ben and Liam is a family of four - two tired parents, a baby, and a young boy named Dylan. When Dylan and his flighty mom get off-track in the woods, he hears a call that sounds just like his mother. He can tell something is off and resists her calls before they turn aggressive, attempting to lure him into a tree that got me creeped out in a way I haven’t experienced since The Witch.

After Dylan’s mom brings back a buck they hit on the road in the woods, and something nefarious slithers its way out. Ben notices right away that something isn’t right in the neighborhood, and he becomes a confidante for Dylan, who seems to be terrified of his mother. Days later, Dylan is missing, and his parents act as though they have no children, leading Ben to investigate.

Ben’s a caring person at heart, and he becomes obsessed with figuring out what’s happened to Dylan. He takes a very Rear Window / Fright Night approach, watching his neighbors through binoculars, who are up to something unusual in their cellar. When Ben finds an ancient-looking symbol near their doorway, he looks up its meaning and finds that it is the symbol of the “dark mother”, a witch who inhabits different bodies to prey upon forgotten children in order to stay young and beautiful.

There were familiar horror themes - the film is probably most closely related to Sinister - but for most every horror trope found here, there was a fresh spin. Instead of one twist, there were two (one of which I didn’t see coming), and both were executed perfectly. At times, the melancholy vibe and the possession scenes were reminiscent of It Follows (also filmed at lake spots in Michigan), but there was more character development here. Likable characters and strong practical effects bundled with strong tension and unforgettable macabre scenes make this the perfect summer horror movie.

Fair warning - young kids aren’t off-limits; a particular scene involving a baby monitor wasn’t graphic like other scenes, but was somehow more sickening. While adults are manipulated throughout the film, most of the victims are children. But isn’t that life, that some children are forgotten by their parents (in this film, absentee mothers), and in one way or another, meet a perilous demise? Will that ever really go away? Haunting.

Worth Watching? 

Yes, if you can stomach its premise and its ruthlessness in scenes with children. As a mother it was hard for me to watch, but it achieved the holy grail for horror - a movie that terrifies, sparks a dialogue, and leaves a lasting impact.

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