The Wretched (2019)

Written and Directed by Brett and Drew Pierce

According to IMDB, The Wretched was the #1 film in North America during May of 2020—we know this is because it was the only film playing, but that’s still one pat on the back it can have.  This movie had potential for fun.  The trailer was artfully deceptive in convincing you it was full of spooks and terror.  It reminded me of Rear Window, Fright Night, and The Witch except there was no character development and I couldn’t wait for it to be over.

The main point of suffering in this film was borrowed from overdone Japanese tropes like every other American horror movie of the last twenty years—all stringy haired, creepy crawly women and arachnodactyly-afflicted monster fingers. As someone who suffers from arthritic arachnodactyly, I demand justice and less stylishly recycled scares.

The film would have been DOA without the performance of Zarah Mahler as Abbie.  I was cheering her on most of the time. She was written as a tough mom with a somewhat timid husband, but she played the role with much more nuance, like a woman we might know in real life.  My personal preference would be a film more about her family and less about Ben’s. Sorry Ben.  I did like her less in the beginning before the “wretched” took over but I’m drawn to witchy women who take what they want.  Abbie delivers the only interesting acting in the movie and she was downright chilling at times.  The scene at the screen door is likely the most memorable and definitely the most frightening.

Before I go on, it should be known I wanted to like the other characters.  Films revolving around teens usually fall flat because the acting is poor or the screen chemistry is off, but the flat lining fault for me with this flick was the writing. I really liked Ben (John-Paul Howard) and Mallory (Piper Curda) as characters but the dialogue was lacking and I was never provided any opportunity to care about them. He liked pain pills, she was a boat valet, what more can I say?

Ben’s relationship with his father Liam (Jamison Jones) was strained, but I’m not sure which character to side with since their backstory remained cloudy.  Ben’s parents are getting divorced but we are never clear on why, and Ben has a drug problem we are suppose to accept at face value as a character flaw rather than a symptom of depression.  Ben’s pill problem leads his father to gaslight him any time he raises a concern, and that seems more like uninspired writing than understandable behavior.  Much of their relationship made me feel agitated.  I think the writers intended for a deeper meaning to unfold, but I cannot say because we never got a deeper meaning, just more gaslighting.

The driving smoke and mirrors plot device and the act of forgetting as a continuous theme were interesting concepts.  The film did have some genuine scares.  I was left with the feeling I get from a properly executed episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the feeling being “That would have made a great movie!” except it was a movie and not so great.

I think horror needs more films like this right now and I commend the effort to create a family themed horror movie in an era where those dynamics has been strained (pre-pandemic included).  I would have liked to know more about Abbie’s family.  It would be nice to know more about Ben’s family too.  It’s hard to care about people when we knew so little of their lives before the film started.  I won’t tell you not to watch it. I suffered through it, why not you?  Plus there’s a lot of gorgeous scenery, many nods to other horror films, and some solid little scares. 

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