The Dark and the Wicked, 2020.
Directed by Bryan Bertino.
Starring Marin Ireland, Michael Abbott Jr., Julie Oliver-Touchstone, Lynn Andrews, Tom Nowicki, and Michael Zagst.
Two siblings discover that their home has been taken over by a dark presence, as they mourn their father’s painful passing.
That old phrase ‘Abandon hope all ye who enter here’ taken from Dante Alighieri’s Inferno would have been an apt tagline for this film. Also, it would have functioned as an effective way to warn all viewers in advance regarding the bleak nature of the movie in general. Because in all honesty, this is one devastatingly bleak and overwhelmingly dark affair, I kid you not. The story follows two siblings as they journey back to their ancestral home, a secluded farm in a rural town, to mourn their father’s deteriorating health status. It is a trying time for all present, as they put aside their individual differences to tend to the needs of the now-ailing patriarch. But their miserable situation is further complicated with their mother’s increasingly volatile mental state and her sudden demise the next day following a suicidal hanging. Shortly after, things take a turn for the worse as a malevolent entity makes its sinister presence known and the remaining family members becomes its hapless victims.
Being a huge admirer of director Bryan Bertino’s previous efforts I was quite curious to see what this talented auteur had in store for us next. Since storming into the world of cinema 12 years prior with the twisted slasher classic The Strangers, Bertino has consistently churned out bona fide horror films every couple of years to keep genre fans preoccupied, and if his latest entry is any indication, we certainly will have a few decades worth of nightmare fueling projects by him to look forward to, and that’s comforting. But I digress, The Dark and the Wicked is undoubtedly Bertino’s finest effort yet. Apart from the well-placed jolts of shocks throughout its runtime, the film’s narrative arc serves as a slow burn character study on grief and its devastatingly crippling effect on individuals. Sure, there may very well be a scary monster lurking in the shadows orchestrating the madness, but where audiences get really unnerved is when they’re unable to discern between what’s real and imagined. The Dark and the Wicked is a combination of all these, in addition to the obvious supernatural angle which comes into play at around the half-way point. Bertino deftly balances all these aspects in addition to utilizing the surrounding physical environment and its accoutrements, to heighten the sepulchral tone of the film.
DOP Trystan Nyman’s stunning contribution to the movie plays an integral role in visually translating the sheer bleakness of the unfolding drama to the big screen. Each frame is virtually dripping with atmosphere and dread but is equally beautiful to look at. Composer Tom Schraeder further compliments Bertino’s gloom-ridden output with a minimalist soundtrack that is equal parts terrifying and haunting. Not enough praise can be showered on actress Marin Ireland’s emotionally raw and vulnerable performance. The Tony Award nominee truly gives her all here and you feel the character’s unfathomable pain, so much so that the need to see her suffering come to an end becomes unendurably real for the audience. That’s how terrific she is. Michael Abbott Jr. delivers a great supporting performance as Ireland’s sibling as well. Julie Oliver Touchstone’s brief appearance as the indisposed matriarch was also quite memorable.
Utterly unforgettable and unbearably unnerving, The Dark and the Wicked is an exceptionally well-crafted horror film replete with compelling performances and great atmospherics, that is sure to chill you to your bones.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Hasitha Fernando is a part-time medical practitioner and full-time cinephile. Follow him on Twitter via @DoctorCinephile for regular updates on the world of entertainment.