Synopsis – A defiant teenage boy, struggling with his parents’ imminent divorce, faces off with a thousand year-old witch, who is living beneath the skin of and posing as the woman next door.
My Take – In an uncanny turn of events, with the most cinematic releases starring or helmed by known faces/names being pushed to the next year’s calendar due to general lock down of cinemas all around the world, smaller films starring or helmed by mostly unknown faces/names are finding themselves a sheer amount of audience, which they would never have otherwise. With the horror, obviously, being the top choice among the audience.
Personally I believe, as a genre, horror has been long saturated, mainly as most films which have found release, in either theaters or on VOD, just by taking account of the past decade, have been quite sub-standard with an obvious desperation in them to permeate the surface and frighten at least one person watching.
But of course, there are always exceptions, with this latest film from directors Brett Pierce and Drew T. Pierce aka the Pierce Brothers, which has apparently been killing at drive-ins across the U.S., being among the surprisingly better ones. Running for about 96 minutes, this one is a reasonably well made horror that introduces enough solid dark and twisted ideas, to keep even a casual viewer hooked, while wholly paying obvious homages to better films like Fright Night, Rear Window, Disturbia and to some extend even Robert Eggers‘s 2015 directorial debut, The Witch.
Although the film reeks with pacing issues, the ambitious horror film with a roster of great performances and a keen eye for craft is absolutely worth a watch for anyone looking for a solid coming of age story with a few good scares peppered throughout. Making it a perfect set up to make the Pierce Brothers as someone to look out for in the world of horror.
The story follows Ben (John-Paul Howard), a Seventeen-year-old who arrives in a small lakeside town on the east coast, to spend the summer working for his father, Liam (Jamison Jones), at the local marina. The thing is, Ben has been troubled since his parents got separated, and arrives with a broken arm due to some mild criminal activity, and is there to keep out of trouble. While he quickly settles in by befriending Mallory (Piper Curda), his pretty and spunky marina coworker, his situation quickly begins to deteriorate when he gains enemies in some rich brats, and also finds out that his father has a new girlfriend named Sara (Azie Tespai).
But what really begins to trouble him are his next door neighbors, especially after Ben half-glimpsed something that may be scrambling onto their roof at night and lurking underneath their porch. The thing which clearly has a sway over Abbie (Zarah Mahler), the young mother living in the house, and has its focused attention on Dillon (Blane Crockarell), her grade-school-aged son. And when Dillon goes missing, Ben decides to take matters into his own hands, despite no one believing him.
The plot isn’t terribly original but directors Brett and Drew T. Pierce‘s new film features a creature seldom explored in horror. The killer tree-spirit is not an often represented evil force and so there is an air of freshness to this scrappy but accomplished horror film. Using the setting and concepts well, the film acts as a serious contemporary take on classic folklore. As the film unfolds, the lore and concepts of the witch are slowly laid bare, although never too much to lose the sense of mystery and dread that keeps the tension and suspense ramped up throughout the runtime.
Like Disturbia, the film is more of a teen gloss on Hitchcock’s timeless exercise in voyeuristic suspense, Rear Window, complete with appendage in a cast and trusty binoculars, however here, the threat is supernatural, and the film’s cleverest twist on its borrowed formula is that the cadaverous villain can erase her victims from the minds of their loved ones.
While we have seen supernatural entities leave behind strange symbols before and act beneath a squelchy sound effect, I personally found the idea of a witch wearing women’s skin as a flesh jumpsuit as the most excellent addition. Plus considering its budget, the creature effects and design are also impressive.
The filmmakers with a doubt know just how to frame their monster: crouching in the half-light, and standing on unsteady legs in the background, they are smart about their budget restraints and often lean more towards unseen terror and suggestions to create suspense. Rarely resorting to a cheap jump scare, the two possess a casually tight grip on the fundamentals of horror.
Sadly, the film is also riddled with pacing issues. The first half is filled with fairly basic stuff and doesn’t really work. Sequences where Ben trying to be in with some cool kids and good looking girl one among them, eventually amounts to nothing.
Moreover, the growing conspiracy and the sense of foreboding isn’t used nearly enough, coupled with messy mythology that isn’t thoroughly explored or explained, meaning we’re never entirely sure quite what is going on, until the third act kicks in. Not that it makes the spooky film a dud or anything, but since it works so hard to invoke so many influences, the film dilutes itself from being as memorable or as effective as it so clearly wants to be.
However, unlike most horror films, the cast is very likable here. John-Paul Howard is pretty good in his leading role and manages to have us root for him, while Piper Curda succeeds in being the stand out. In supporting roles, Jamison Jones, Azie Tesfai, Kevin Bigley, Zarah Mahler and Blane Crockarell are also in fine form. On the whole, ‘The Wretched’ is an effective horror thriller that evokes enough thrills and chills to keep us engaged.
Rated – NR
Run Time – 96 minutes