It’s clear, even just from The Wretched’s opening scenes, that the Pierce Brothers (Brett and Drew) have produced a film full of impeccable imagery. As neglected children’s toys lay scattered on the ground in the pouring rain, it ties to the gruesome reality of the town in which the film is set. There’s an evil lurking in the shadows ready to feast on the innocent. Straight away, the directors aren’t shy in giving a little tease of the horrors to come, as we see a woman with a child in her arms as the sound of teeth penetrating flesh and crushing bone ring in the ears. These are sounds that permeate The Wretched, a film that is bound to send shivers up your spine.
As Ben, John-Paul Howard delivers a performance in The Wretched that effectively portrays the struggle to cope with a parental divorce that looms ahead. Spending the summer with his father and working at a marina is supposed to be a time to clear his head. It’s supposed to be a normal teenage summer with a job, girls, and parties. But it quickly turns into something much more sinister when he realizes that a witch has stolen the form of his dad’s neighbor, Abbie (Zarah Mahler). Ben quickly turns into a character that can be described as a mixture of Rear Window’s L.B. Jefferies and The ’Burbs’ Ray Peterson. He begins to spend day and night perched on his balcony with binoculars in hand and becomes obsessed with what Abbie could be hiding in her cellar. And, of course, to his father, a story of a witch living next door is nothing but the delusions of a disturbed teenager.
As the film’s introductory song by Blues Saraceno says, “Something wicked, wicked gonna come.” And it does in full force. Most of the time in films of this genre, it takes a fair bit for the scary monster to arrive. But in this case, the witch is the film’s focus from beginning to end. And she’s not just one-dimensional, as the Pierce Brothers have created a mythology surrounding who they refer to as a “dark mother.” They give her origins and her own mark. It’s not a film that needs to rely heavily on jump scares because its evil is so well-crafted. The witch’s character design is just as impressive as the film's use of body horror. She breaks open and slithers in and out of any carcass, completely covering herself in her victims’ skin. And all of the actresses whose characters fall victim to the witch perfectly embody this victimization, from a simple change in voice and twitches to full body movements.
This witch’s brew wouldn’t be complete without the superb ingredient of hair-raising cinematography in The Wretched. There are some amazing shots here, like the witch being reflected in the eye of a dead deer. This creates the best kind of atmosphere you could ever want from a horror film, and it has the chilling score by Devin Burrows to match. The Wretched is a wicked and suspenseful thrill until the very end—a film that will make you weary of every dark corner in anticipation of the long, clawed hand that could reach out from within.
Movie Score: 4.5/5
The Wretched had its world premiere at the Fantasia International Film Festival. Keep an eye on our online hub to stay up to date on all of our Fantasia 2019 coverage!