Bryan Bertino’s ‘The Dark and the Wicked’: A Little Conventional, but a Good Solid Watch

Louise (Marin Ireland) and Michael (Michael Abbott Jr.) are siblings returning to the family farm to deal with the impending death of their father David (Michael Zagst). Their mother Virginia (Julie Oliver-Touchstone) is angered to see them, and tries to tell them to leave. A fraught situation only escalates with the manifestation of a sinister presence.

“Damn these landline phones!”

Bryan Bertino is a master of suspense, with the tension building right from the beginning; the family is estranged, but we don’t know why. We actually get very little information about Louise and Michael’s lives outside the immediate present, which adds to a sense of being trapped. Almost all of the action takes place on the farm, and the cast is very small. The house is dark, even in the daytime, and claustrophobic. The scenes that take place outside are hauntingly beautiful, but also dim and wintry.

The tone of the film is dark all around. There’s a completely hopeless stance on the subject of faith and the power of love. After Michael states that his father, a good man, doesn’t deserve his fate, David’s nurse (Lynn Andrews) muses that demons can “come for whoever they want.” Evil strikes wantonly, and it doesn’t matter if its victims (stealing a phrase from It here) believe, half believe, or don’t believe at all. In a heartbreaking scene, Michael says to Virginia, “It’s gonna be okay, Mama.” She replies bleakly, “What’s gonna be okay?” The ending is truly shocking and memorable.

The face of organized religion in the movie

Bertino established his skill with sound as early as The Strangers, and Wicked is no exception. Here he uses an ominous score rather than ironic folk songs, but still utilizes unsettling noises, including wolves howling, furniture creaking, chopping, wind blowing, thunder, shrieking, and “squelching” (gotta love closed captioning). Not to mention off-key hymn singing–when middle-aged ladies be sewing and warbling about Jesus, shit’s about to go down.

The performances are amazing, particularly from Ireland and genre regular Xander Berkeley as the priest. I love how Louise and Michael, tough Texans, are grizzled and matter-of-fact. They stick together and take care of the livestock even as they’re horrified by supernatural events. There’s no comic relief whatsoever in the movie, but there is a heartwarming segment when Michael attends to a newly born baby goat, hugging it and telling its mother she’s a good mama.

My gripes are few. Virginia keeping a diary describing her experiences in order to provide the audience with a view into her mindset is a bit uncreative and pretty unrealistic (who has time to keep a journal while singlehandedly running a farm and battling malevolent forces?), though I have to admit the entries are damn unnerving: “…so many mouths…” “Spiders on my face like tears.” There are also plenty of immediately recognizable done-to-death horror movie tropes present, like the old calling out “Hello? Is someone out there?” (not once but twice), chairs moving and lights turning on by themselves, and something horrible happening while showering and chopping vegetables (not at the same time). Plus I kept seeing shots that reminded me of other movies, like The Exorcist, The Sentinel, and The Strangers, respectively, though perhaps they are intentional nods:

At any rate, I was overall very impressed, and I loved it. Give it a look if you’re in the mood for something that really is dark and wicked.

Published by GhoulieJoe

I wuvs the horror movies and like to write snarky reviews about them. I also included some pretentious as hell microfiction (don't worry, it's at the bottom).

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