Siblings Louise and Michael return to their isolated family farm to comfort their dying father in his final days. After a less than warm welcome from their clearly troubled mother, they become aware of a deeply disturbing presence wallowing in the dank wings of impending bereavement.
As the situation deteriorates down a heinous shit pipe of harrowing tragedy, they must face a palliative care nightmare of soul dredging proportions.
This composed and classy shocker, from The Strangers director Bryan Bertino, desperately wants to be your new favourite scary movie and it is more than prepared to rough you up to get there. Occupying the middle ground somewhere between the arthouse slow burn of Hereditary and the jump scare depositary of Insidious, it could be the fright flick that finally unites the horror community in a cross-genre ceasefire of appreciation.
Equally at home wrangling with the complex emotions of end game guilt, as it is saddling up humankind’s base fear of dying alone, Bertino blends traditionally conflicting horror movie methodologies and succeeds on both levels. Balancing a fiercely intelligent autopsy of parental responsibility with a relentless barrage of marquee set-pieces The Dark and the Wicked hides its machiavellian agenda within the plain sight of its title.
Scare wise, we are subjected to a flexible arsenal of terror techniques that interlaces ghoulish shadowplay and highly distressing imagery with jaw-dropping gore. The most graphic vegetable preparation trauma since Sion Sono’s certifiable Suicide Club, and a dreamily framed vision of goat dismemberment, are just two of the visceral monstrosities that will send you scrambling for the brain bleach.
The characters arcs are vitalised through fine performances and a superior script, with dialogue delivered in thick drawls of Americana that a cynic might suggest is a revenge shot into the period-authentic midriff of The VVitch.
Michael Abbott Jr, fresh from the under the radar degeneracy of The Death of Dick Long, charts his namesake’s transition from slacker pragmatist to pulverised wreck with studied precision. Meanwhile, Marin Ireland’s Louise embodies the converse journey from psychologically damaged histrionics to a state of stoic resolve with comparable aplomb.
Xander Berkeley makes an always welcome appearance as a sinister priest, sowing seeds of theological misanthropy that will later sprout into the suffocating weeds of headfuckery. Also magnificent is Lynn Andrews as the unnamed home nurse. Her contribution is one of a calming constant that grounds the film, a chink of light beaming in from the world outside. The kindly carer is also a reminder of the old horror movie adage that the nicest people must suffer the most in an iconic episode of possessional hostility fit to grace The Omen (1976).
In terms of technical aptitude, The Dark and the Wicked upstages much bigger budget horror movies in every department. The sound design, score and editing are impeccable with brooding camerawork that precipitates a claustrophobic aura of inevitability.
Bertino’s The strangers already has a weighty cult following and his new film, a vastly superior genre rollercoaster, will further cement him as a viable ambassador of high-end horror. It should appeal to a broad gamut of genre fans irrespective of whether they lean towards the tent pole ballistics of Blumhouse or the indie slow burn of A24’s more high brow catalogue.
The film is very cinematic and the shared experience of a group viewing is advised if only to watch your fellow filmgoers jump out of their collective skins.
Genuinely creepy, unremittingly absorbing and emphatically frightening flicks like this do not come around that often and The Dark and the Wicked is all those things and more. Even the most jaded of horror hounds will treasure this oppressive plunge into the realms of the diabolical.
International Premiere Fantasia Film Festival 2020 Chevel Noir Live
Fri Aug 28th, 2020 9.45 pm
Horror | USA | 2020 | 95 mins | US Theatrical Release 6 November 2020 by RLJ Entertainment | UK Release Date 2021 by Shudder | Unbroken Pictures | Dir. Bryan Bertino | With: Marin Ireland, Michael Abbott Jr., Xander Berkeley