While spending the summer with his father, a teen fears a supernatural entity may be next door. Written and directed by The Pierce Brothers, The Wretched has all the elements of crafting a solid folk horror. But its bland teen angst angle and discombobulated tone dilute its frights and waste its well-crafted monster.
With his parents recently separated, Ben (John-Paul Howard) heads upstate to spend the summer with his dad Liam (Jamison Jones), working at his marina business. A cute family has recently moved in next door, and Ben begins to befriend their young son Dillon.
One afternoon Dillon ventures off for a hike in the woods with his mom Abbie. After getting lost, he notices a unique symbol carved into the tree and hears something disguised as his mother calling for him. Once reunited and while driving home, Abbie hits a deer — which she brings home to preserve the meat.
In the night, something crawls out from the carcass and sets its sights on Abbie. Soon Dillon notices something odd and alerts Ben to her strange behavior. As he keeps a watchful eye, he grows concerned that the mother is a witch with sinister plans for the kids.
The Wretched is quite a toss-up. It has a strong concept with intriguing mythology backed by unnerving visuals. But it veers towards an awkward teen drama at times that feels cheap. It’s not quite what the marketing had shown and instead feels like a supernatural cousin to Disturbia (2007).
The script also felt a bit all over the place, with a few loose ends and unfulfilled ideas. It opens with a 1985 flashback, never referenced again. An unnecessary subplot of Ben being the newbie getting into tiffs with the local popular kids. A mysterious man with a dog on the dock that you assume will come into play — but it does not.
The film also seems to struggle with building its mythos. Certain aspects make no sense or shift to service wherever the story needs to go. These could be considered mild spoilers, so skip to the last paragraph if you’d like.
The rules around who can be possessed and whether they need to be a maternal figure are questionable. The creature also shifts from consuming children immediately to stashing them unharmed for no reason; other than to make for a perfect rescue opportunity for the films climax.
Even from a costume design perspective, you have a grungy-hipster mom who, after possession, somehow now has a glamorous wardrobe. Some are perhaps trivial, but those finer details are important.
The Wretched has so much working in its favor if it could have just been more fine-tuned. One of its biggest strengths is the insane practical effects, which would have been much scarier with the right tone. The film is fairly unique and unpredictable, with a stellar twist in the third act. If only it had a more purposeful direction.
The Wretched is available to stream on Netflix
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