Courtesy of IFC Midnight
A compelling cold open can’t overcome the lackluster scares throughout “The Wretched” - a new film from the two guys who brought us the zombie flick “Deadheads.” In those opening moments, a babysitter, “35 years ago” the title card reads, stumbles upon a woman chowing down on a child, Pennywise style, and meets their gruesome demise.
Is it a bird? A plane? How about witches for $200 Alex!
To its credit, “The Wretched” features a fair share of practical effects over CGI and is paced in a reasonable manner at only 95 minutes, but you don’t really care about the characters staggering from one scene to the next. This is a classic case of the boy who cried wolf, where a troubled youth stands at the center of the film begging his elders to listen to him, but alas his past makes him untrustworthy and thus more people die.
The script is littered with one pop cultural nod after the other and feels like the poor man’s Stephen King. There are deer skulls, and witches’ logs that must have been left over props from “The Blair Witch Project,” and the Pierce Brothers (the directing duo) don’t try to hide the fact this is probably the millionth tale we’ve seen in this subgenre and doesn’t try to establish any distinguishable features from its predecessors.
Same ole, same ole. And sometimes, that works – in this case, the performers aren’t strong enough to elevate the material.
Not for a lack of trying: Ben (John-Paul Howard) is the troubled boy who is shipped off to his dad’s lakeside estate in Michigan for the summer to earn some extra cash at the local marina. He’s got a busted arm for reasons we don’t understand yet, and when we do find out, it produces no more than an eye-roll. Thankfully, he’s got a whip smart and sarcastic pal, Mallory (Piper Curada) to help acclimate him to the town.
But after hours, there’s weird happenings going on next door from one of the summer rentals. Enter tattooed mama Abbie (Zarah Mahler) whose idea of killing time is gutting the deer she just ran over. Now enter a demonic entity whose creaky noises could make the hair on a chiropractor stand-up, decides to crawl out of the deer caucus and inhabit Abbie. This doesn’t bode well for her son Dillion (Blane Cockerel) as he’s next up on the chopping block.
Ben begins to fear for Dillion’s life and obsesses over the lore of the entity and starts to see visions in the nearby forest at night. The main proponent of these “witches'' motives is they take over bodies, bend the minds and essentially wipe people’s memory faster than a nebulizer from “Men in Black.” So, if you had a kid, chances are you forgot.
There are a few minor subplots that take shape in “The Wretched” including a hint of romance, teen hazing, and the father’s new girlfriend. Howard does try his best to convey a wide variety of emotions as the plucky hero of the story and he does what he can, though most of it comes across as wooden and less than convincing. “The Wretched” might offer a quick fix for late night horror junkies as the film is streaming on May 1st and opens in select drive-ins across the country. If anything, cheesy horror movies were made for those venues, which might be the only logical way to view this film in its entirety.
I’m not sure about the rest of us.
THE WRETCHED hits streaming and video-on-demand starting Friday May 1st.