Review: 'The Dark and the Wicked' a disturbingly slow descent into madness
Courtesy of RLJE Films
Bran Bertino, writer and director of cult hit “The Strangers,” tries to flex his horror musclewith the disturbingly slow and dull “The Dark and the Wicked” another haunted house clunker where strange noises are heard, hallucinations run rampant, and goats are slaughtered. There’s some effective jolts and the occasional jaw dropper emerges but Bertino’s film, which has garnered quite a bit of praise following its Fantasia Film Festival debut, is baked in familiar tactics (and depression) that it literally drains you during the viewing. This despite an atmosphere that tries to repurpose haunted house tropes, and benefits from solid performances. Whereas “The Strangers” most effective scares came from the unknown, and the now infamous motive of “you were home,” “Dark and the Wicked” doesn’t try to hide where it's heading.
For Michael (Michael Abbott Jr.) and his younger sister Louise (Marin Ireland, who between this and “The Empty Man” is quietly elevating junk cinema) traveling back to their rural family farm comes with a new burden. Their childhood homestead filled with joyous memories is now where their elderly father will take his last breath. The first night back is met with tragedy, and you get the feeling a soul sucking presence is lurking beneath the floorboards. It’s like “The Exorcists” meets “Deliverance.” From there, any peace about a happy resolution should be taken out to pasture, considering “Dark and the Wicked” isn’t so much interested in happy endings as it is suffocating audiences with the evil force in the home.
To its credit, the production design and isolated backwoods country setting garners top merits, but the film’s main purpose is to fill audiences with a slow burning dread. While that’s generally attractive in horror films (“His House” is a prime example) it’s a ploy that, for me, backfires. I can dig a film that wants to lay down solid foundation for an effective third act finale and though “Dark and the Wicked” comes arguably close to fulfilling that promise, the ending left plenty to be desired. Perhaps that’s because Bertino doesn’t go for the big set pieces and shows incredible restraint as a filmmaker. What will work for some, might not for others and that’s fine.
The most interesting element the film tackles is family trauma. Considering there’s a certain ambivalence to seeing our aging parents within ourselves, understanding how we’ve dealt with guilt could determine the afterlife. There are enough fragments of that philosophy sprinkled in “The Dark and the Wicked” to make for a thought provoking conversation on grief, except the journey to get there proves futile.
RLJE Films will release THE DARK AND THE WICKED In Theaters, On Digital and On Demand November 6, 2020.