How well do you know your neighbors? Is it better or worse now that we have all been quarantined in the home? My next-door neighbor loves to listen to the greatest hits of Warren Zevon while grilling hamburgers and smoking a tobacco pipe, while another watches old football games on a television in his garage with a fresh cooler of drinks nearby. It’s amazing how little I knew about the people living right next door to me.

In Brett and Drew Pierce’s new horror film The Wretched, a teenage boy struggling with the imminent divorce of his parents suspects that his next-door neighbor is an ancient evil spirit. Sporting an ’80s horror movie vibe in the vein of something like Fright Night or Silver Bullet, a wicked creature design, and a narrative that moves at that near-perfect 90-minute Friday night movie pace, The Wretched is a fun and welcome dose of genre fiction distraction for these serious times we are currently living in.

Ben (John-Paul Howard) is staying with his father (Jamison Jones) in a woody lake town that feels like a summer getaway location. Ben is annoyed with his parents, who are nearing a divorce, and doesn’t take kindly to his father’s new girlfriend and the job provided to him at the lake. But Ben meets Mallory (Piper Curda), a down-to-earth friendly face who is also the perfect liaison for Ben into getting comfortable with the new community. But something strange is happening with Ben’s neighbors; their little boy goes missing, dad seems to have completely forgotten he had a child, and mom threateningly watches Ben all the time. After finding a strange symbol on their home, Ben begins to believe that his neighbor is some kind of ancient monster.

The Pierce Brothers construct some very ingenious designs throughout their horror film. The composition of scares and frights depends more on what you don’t see than what you do, hiding the impressive creature design and slowly revealing it throughout the film keeps everything interesting. An early scene where Ben investigates noises on top of his house builds excellent tension and offers an early payoff that will keep the fright fans engaged for another reveal of the creeping creature. 

The narrative builds an interesting mystery early on, but motivations are quickly revealed and familiarity takes over, however, the film is so nicely paced that many of these concerns don’t arise until after the film is over and you’ve had time to digest everything. What also assists in keeping everything moving is the great cast of unknown faces, specifically John-Paul Howard and Piper Curda, who have excellent chemistry from start to finish.

The Wretched works on many different levels, offering a blend of interesting horror elements, some impressive monster construction, and a cast that simply commits to the seriousness and fun being had throughout. Surprisingly, while this film could work in any big theater, coronavirus orders have offered the release of this film in a well-suited format at the drive-in movie theater (check your local listings, because this is an option in some states that still have drive-in theaters). 

Movies have always offered a welcome dose of escape from the real world, and for some genre fans, a good old-fashioned horror film is the perfect comfort food cinema to escape from the seriousness of the world around us. The Wretched accomplishes that very task. 

Movie Score: 3.5/5

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