The Wretched

With his parents divorcing, teenaged Ben (John-Paul Howard) reluctantly travels to stay with his father Liam (Jamison Jones) and work at the same marina, now gearing up for vacationers.  One night, he hears noises on the roof.  Investigating, he finds a hole in the wooden porch foundation of the house next door, then thinks he spots a large animal.  He warns the couple’s young son Dillon (Blane Crockarell) not to poke around the hole the next morning, later finding the boy in his own bedroom, terrified of returning to his mother in “The Wretched.”

Laura's Review: C-

Writer/directors Brett and Drew T. Pierce have cobbled together a genre outing that’s one part folk horror, one part “Disturbia” and one part “Fright Night” (featuring a witch instead of vampire).  It is frustratingly flawed, the brothers haphazard in establishing both their characters and spatial integrity.  The film lifts a bit in the middle, next door neighbor Abbie (Zarah Mahler) becoming genuinely terrifying, before any good will is wasted in an overblown climax full of stupid decisions, unlikely coincidences and muddled mythology. 

When Ben arrives he notes a pretty woman sunbathing outside the house next door.  Is that       Mallory (Piper Curda), the irreverent marina coworker he meets the next day?  Sure looks like her, until we later realize it was Abby.  We meet Abby hiking in the woods with Dillon out of the blue with no idea of how she relates to Ben.  When she pulls up outside her house with a deer carcass in her truck bed, it is as much a surprise to us as it is to her husband Ty (Kevin Bigley.

When some strange things happen on Abby’s baby monitor, she goes to investigate, but the woman who returns is not Abby.  Dillon picks up on this quickly while Ty just delivers a peck to her check.  Dillon does leave Ben’s protection for dad after refusing to leave with mom, but when Ben stops by later to check on him, Ty claims to have no children.

Of course, Liam doesn’t believe his son, more upset about Ben’s resentment of Liam’s new girlfriend Sara (Azie Tesfai).  Ben not only ditches dinner with Sara to go off drinking with Mallory and her friends, he upsets Mallory in the process, getting drunk enough to barf on her then flirt with one of her friends (who, again, comes out of nowhere).  Then he witnesses the abduction of Mallory’s little sister Lily (Ja'layah Washington), whose disappearance is summarily forgotten until the film’s climax.             

Mahler is effective as the possessed, but when the malevolent witch, a ‘dark mother born of root, rock and tree,’ takes over Sara, a single woman, it’s difficult to apply the prologue flashback featuring the eating of a child to the proceedings.  Ben observes increasingly weird behavior in his neighbors with binoculars, but would he really beat the lock off their bulkhead to check out their basement, then call 911 while he’s there?  (Later we’re unsure just whose basement he is in – his own or the neighbors’, a continuing problem with this movie.)  The tree and deer head symbolism is eerie, but the use of bone cracking, unnatural limb movement which became prevalent in possession/exorcism movies has grown numbingly clichéd.  Even their clever coda is undercut by the obvious fakery of its prop before the punch line is delivered.       

“The Wretched” is all the worse for its glimmers of what could have been.

Robin's Review: C

Ben (John-Paul Howard) is returning home to his now-divorced dad. But, there is something sinister living beneath a tree and the 1000 year old demon can cause you to forget those it makes disappear. To save his family and friends, Ben must do battle with "The Wretched."

When it comes to horror movies, of which I am NOT a big fan, I tend have higher standard, for me, than for other genres. This is because, I think, that the horror movie genre is the most popular for filmmakers, probably because scary is easier to do than funny. But, it is also easier to screw up and, with "The Wretched," the writing falls short of the film's visual style.

That said, writers-directors Brett Pierce and Drew T. Pierce concoct a monster movie that could have satisfied my higher expectations. Unfortunately, the story is muddled and some of the characters confusing. I also had a problem keeping track of the players and who's who as the supernatural plot unfolds.

There are lots of horror movies and, even now, they continue to come onto the market. It makes me wonder when the first covid-19-based horror flick will be hitting the streets.

This IFC Midnight release will be available digitally on 5/1/2020.