The Dark and the Wicked (2020) is a Bleak and Brutal Paranormal Chiller
Title: The Dark and the Wicked
First Wide Release: September 18, 2020 (Theatrical Release)
Director: Bryan Bertino
Writer: Bryan Bertino
Runtime: 95 Minutes
Starring: Marin Ireland, Michael Abbott Jr., Julie Oliver-Touchstone
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
Louise (Marin Ireland) and Michael (Michael Abbott Jr.) return to their family farm to support their mother in caring for their father in his final days before he succumbs to illness. Once there, eerie happenings and inexplicable deaths put the family on edge. The sister and brother must make a choice to either endure the supernatural assault taking hold of their family or heed the ominous warnings and stay far away. At the helms of this feature is director Bryan Bertino whose divisive filmography includes breakout hit The Strangers and indie ventures Mockingbird and The Monster.
The Dark and the Wicked is a dark and unrelenting experience in existential horror.
There is something really refreshing about The Dark and the Wicked. Its concept is frightening and engaging and offers plenty of freedom to go truly off-the-wall. Its story touches on plenty of important themes including grief, loss, guilt, acceptance of death, and religion which allows for some really interesting philosophical conversations after watching. While it does fit a lot into its plot, it never feels like it takes on too much. My favorite aspect to the story behind The Dark and the Wicked is its impeccable use of misdirects. While not necessarily twists, Bertino keeps the audience in suspense by never giving them a straightforward sequence.
Anchored by great performances, The Dark and the Wicked shines in its treatment of its characters. The acting in this film is stellar, and even more so from leads Ireland and Abbott Jr. Both Louise and Michael are great characters that feel well developed and exposed enough for audiences to sympathize with their plight. Both are compelled by different calls of duty to care for their family and this is explained further as the plot progresses. What impressed me most about watching is the feelings of powerlessness and hopelessness from the cast. The performances by all are so raw and real which makes it heartbreaking when even minor characters face their demise.
The look of The Dark and the Wicked lives up to its premise. The film feels cold and dark without succumbing to exaggeration. Warm colors, brilliant reds and hazy yellows, creep across the screen as an omen of what comes next. The shots inside the house make it feel claustrophobic and lifeless, as if all the happiness had been sucked from it. It looks lived in without feeling homey, which is important to the overall aesthetic and tone of the film.
The craft of The Dark and the Wicked doesn’t stop there. The sound design is impeccable. Bertino does excellent work building up to real jump scares without resorting to cranking the volume up at the exact moment the film wants to make you flinch. The effects are subtle yet executed with flair. The violence is intentionally peppered in at key moments and when it appears it is both wickedly uncomfortable and awe-inspiring. The care that went into making this film is so evident by the finished product. Only once or twice was I taken out by some weird editing choices, but it happens even in the best of films.
This is by far my favorite of Bertino’s works. Bertino has a knack for creating tension and getting under your skin with his signature drawn out scenes and quiet sets. By the time the third act hit, I felt this lingering disturbingly warm tingling feeling take hold of me. It did not let go until the film relented at the credits. This is indicative of an incredibly effective film, in my opinion, to truly hypnotize its viewers into staying engaged in its terrifying world. It’s almost magical.
The idea that death is inescapable is a rather mundane aspect of life but also one that still terrifies many. No matter how one chooses to confront their mortality, death will find you and set you straight. This terrifies us as humans and warps our perceptions of our own reality both in how we view the world and those that inhabit it. The Dark and the Wicked plays on this by bending the reality of our characters, thus altering the audiences’ perception of the events unfolding as well. To say more would dive into spoilers but it leads to some truly uncomfortable sequences. Overall, it’s a hopeless but pragmatic view. You can’t escape fate, no matter how hard you try.
The Dark and the Wicked is an absolutely riveting experience in atmospheric horror. One of 2020’s finest films, this offbeat paranormal film will get under your skin through its slow burn terror, horrific imagery, and gleefully malicious twists, you will walk away feeling different. I try not to hype up films too much in an effort to set reasonable expectations but The Dark and the Wicked delivers too well to undersell. I recommend it whole-heartedly without any hesitation or reservation. Watch this film!
Overall Score? 8/10