REVIEW: ‘The Dark and The Wicked’ is a Soul-Sucking Watch

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The Dark and the Wicked

Writer and director Bryan Bertino showcased his understanding of our deepest fears in his 2008 film The Strangers. In The Dark and the Wicked, Bertino takes the notion of the home invasion to a more terrifying level — the invasion of the home paired with the perversion of the soul. The film was an official selection of the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival and the 2020 Fantasia International Film Festival and was met with a lot of affection from festival crowds.  An affection that I can’t say that I share.

Despite a deliciously evil atmosphere and rock-solid performance from the small cast, The Dark and the Wicked was so saturated in misery that it was difficult to muster up any feeling for it at all. It was a soul-sucking watch, without significant payoff.

In The Dark and the Wicked, Michael (Michael Abbott Jr., The Death of Dick Long) and his sister Louise (Marin Ireland, whose doing a hell of a fine job in this role) travel to the rural isolation of their family farm as their elderly father lays dying. The farm is not a place of warmth and joyful memories, but a secluded and empty place. Their visit to the farm begins on a note of tragedy and it seems that the evil energy of the place is pulling them in. Perhaps to devour them.

I’m not above giving credit where credit is due: The Dark and the Wicked gets top marks for atmosphere. The entire look of the film and the construction of each scene has a miserable weightiness to it. The evil in the house is a suffocating force to the characters and that is clear in every possible moment. The Dark and the Wicked is an exercise in prolonged dread and the exhaustion of it and that’s always an attractive quality in horror.

The Dark and The Wicked

It’s equally refreshing that as a possession film, The Dark and the Wicked exercises an elegant restraint sometimes lost in this subgenre. The horror of The Dark and the Wicked is of a subtler quality and that sometimes makes it even scarier. The devilish scare elements are tastefully sprinkled, upping their impact and giving the film a quiet dignity. That being said, it’s very difficult to watch The Dark and the Wicked without comparing it to The Strangers, or even other family-centered horrors like Hereditary.

Honestly, I won’t try to sway you, dear Reader, on whether this is a compliment or a slight. Suffice to say that some fans WILL see the comparison between the films and love The Dark and the Wicked for it. For this critic, with full prejudice acknowledged, I prefer not to be reminded by a movie of all the better movies I could be watching instead.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about The Dark and the Wicked is how the film positions itself within discussions of family trauma. When taking in a film like this, it’s fun to pick apart the threads and view them through the lens of a disturbed family. It’s a unique kind of horror to imagine aging parents or aging ourselves. The film plays with ideas of guilt and fear of mortality and haunted memories of unhappy childhoods. The Dark and the Wicked doesn’t make a massive statement but leaves enough fragments to assemble a really thought-provoking meditation on family hardship and the bonds that tie us — especially those that tie us to places that we may not want to be connected with.

I won’t mince words, The Dark and the Wicked is absolutely miserable. It is such an upsetting and hopeless film. Punctuated by brief and horrific violence, the film despairs through a desolate setting. It is difficult to watch and not just because it’s scary or disturbing. It moves at a crawl, as slow and tortured as the prolonged inevitable of the dying old man at the film’s center. Some would argue that the film intentionally creates a suffocating and agonizing experience. That very well may be. But it was also the nail in the coffin.

The Dark and the Wicked is sure to be polarizing. Any reasonable horror fan will love the attention to detail, delight in the tension, and hold their breath for every major scare. However, for this critic, the film saps the soul in the most unpleasant way.

The Dark and the Wicked
  • 5/10
    Rating - 5/10
5/10

TL;DR

The Dark and the Wicked is sure to be polarizing. Any reasonable horror fan will love the attention to detail, delight in the tension, and hold their breath for every major scare. However, for this critic, the film saps the soul in the most unpleasant way.