Review by James Lindorf
“The Wretched” is the second film from writing/directing team Brett and Drew Pierce, who were behind the 2012 zombie cult hit Deadheads. “The Wretched” stars John-Paul Howard as Ben, Piper Curda as Mallory, Jamison Jones as Ben’s father, and Zarah Mahler as the mom next door. IFC Midnight ill be releasing the film in select theaters as well as on Digital and Cable VOD platforms starting May 1st.
Ben has been rebelling ever since his parents separated. After pushing his mom too far, Ben gets to spend the summer living and working with his dad at the local marina. Dealing with his dad’s new girlfriend, some trouble making rich kids, and his own potential love interest would be more than enough to keep Ben busy all summer, but then he met the neighbors. Their initial quirky behavior grows increasingly disturbing until Ben makes a startling discovery. An evil spirit from the woods has taken ahold of the parents and starts playing a sinister game of house. It preys upon the children and wiping away any trace of their existence. If he can’t convince anyone to believe him, Ben will be forced to put an end to the skin-walking witch’s reign of terror on his own if he wants to save the idyllic tourist town.
The cast has good chemistry, but it only goes so far because their characters are underdeveloped. Ben’s background and motivations are basic, and he is the most well-developed character in the film. Mallory has a brief moment to shine when she shares a story about 4th grade, but she mostly exists to be his only friend and love interest. His dad is just a good guy trying to make the best of a tough situation. He offers Ben a bike as a bit of independence, but it only serves as another way for them to be apart and dad to not be involved. It keeps the story at arm’s length, close enough to be admired but not fully embraced and loved.
“The Wretched” is not for gorehounds. Opening with perhaps its most graphic scene and the brothers let you know that no one is safe and the deaths can be brutal. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your point of view, it is well over a half-hour before the next kill takes place and even loner for on-screen action. In its place, we are treated to beautiful images of the infected parent having their body ravaged by the creature. Things go bump in the night, property is damaged, and animals disappear, as a way to ratchet up the tension without putting the relatively small cast in direct danger. The brothers blended practical effects and CGI cleverly to create a believable but supernatural threat.
The biggest names in horror at the moment are, of course, Jordan Peele, a resurgent M. Night Shyamalan, and newcomer Ari Aster. It is Aster’s style that is most similar to what the Pierce brothers have created in “The Wretched.” Blood and violence that are prevalent in most horror films are traded for atmosphere, music, camerawork to support some reasonably impressive creature work. “The Wretched” is an above-average independent horror film but may not have enough substance to become hit. However, it should serve as a perfect calling card to allow the brothers a chance at one of the major upcoming horror films.