There’s a lot to like about THE WRETCHED (2020), a new horror movie about a very hungry witch whose favorite item on the menu happens to be young children.
A teenager Ben (John-Paul Howard) who’s struggling with his parents’ recent divorce prepares to spend the summer both living with his dad Liam (Jamison Jones) and working for him at the local marina, and it’s there on the job that Ben strikes up a friendship with fellow teen Mallory (Piper Curda). Speaking of relationships, his dad also happens to be in one, also with a co-worker, Sara (Azie Tesfai), which does not sit well with Ben.
Actually, Ben has his share of issues. He has a broken arm, which he got when he jumped out of his neighbor’s window after trying to steal some pills from their medicine cabinet. Yes, Ben has a history of substance abuse problems. He’s also headstrong, opinionated, and defiant.
But one night he hears and then glimpses a strange creature lurking outside which makes its way to his dad’s neighbor’s house. Turns out, this creature happens to be a witch which likes to invade and take over other people’s bodies. And it does just that, taking over the body of the young mother Abbie (Zarah Mahler) next door, and since this witch likes to prey on children, it has a couple of tasty morsels waiting for it inside the home.
When Abbie’s son Dillon (Blane Crockarell) turns to Ben for help, Ben believes the young boy and decides to make it his mission to protect him. Trouble is, the witch is rather powerful, and when Ben turns to others for help, who is going to believe a teen with the kind of history he has?
I really liked THE WRETCHED, mostly because of the way it framed its story. It was just different enough to keep an old trope fresh. It also does an excellent job creating its characters. Ben’s story is an interesting one even without the supernatural elements, and the film does such a good job developing his back story, that once the horror stuff starts, it really gets interesting.
The character of Ben is an intriguing protagonist, and he lifts what could have been a standard tale of a hungry witch to more watchable levels.
The screenplay was written by Brett Pierce and Drew T. Pierce, and they also directed the movie, billed as The Pierce Brothers.
The dialogue is fresh and real, and all the characters are fleshed out, which is something that doesn’t always happen in a horror movie. The character that is fleshed out the least, ironically, is the witch. We never learn all that much about it, but in this case, it doesn’t matter because the story is driven by Ben and the other characters, and having the witch as simply an evil entity intending them harm works here.
The special effects are also pretty good for a low budget movie. The Pierce Brothers use a less is more approach, in that we don’t always get clear shots of the witch, as we often catch glimpses, or there are effective uses of lighting and shadow, but combined with the sound effects, it all looks terrific. And scary. The witch is certainly a frightening looking creature.
That being said, THE WRETCHED is somewhat of a slow burn horror movie. The empahsis here is on character, and the horror elements are few and far between, and there really aren’t all that many satisfying shock scenes. But on the other hand it’s not a let down either. The scares are there, as is the suspense, especially during the film’s third act.
There’s even a twist thrown in for good measure that I didn’t see coming. It’s an intriguing one, and unlike a lot of twists that show up in horror movies only to unintentionally ruin and undo all that came before it, the one here in THE WRETCHED supports the story and while not a game changer in either direction, good or bad, it’s one that makes you nod your head and say, “That’s cool. I didn’t see that.”
There are also some gory scenes that work well, too.
There is a prologue which takes place in the middle of the opening credits that while well done doesn’t really seem to have any place in the story, other than to show that the witch has been at it for a long time. But this is just an afterthought. The rest of the movie works fine.
John-Paul Howard does an excellent job in the lead role as Ben. He nails the character, who is often annoying, which makes the audience empathize with the characters who don’t believe him later more than him, which is a neat trick to pull off in a movie like this. Because he needs to be believed! Howard also starred in HELL OR HIGH WATER (2016), one of my favorite movies from that year. It was a small role, as he played the son of Chris Pine’s lead character.
All the acting here is good, from Piper Curda as Mallory, who grows closer to Ben as the story goes along, to Jamison Jones as Ben’s dad Liam, who desperately wants to support his son, but Ben’s increasingly erratic behavior makes it more and more difficult for him to do so.
THE WRETCHED is not going to do for witches what THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999) did two decades ago, nor should it, as it’s not as innovative a movie as BLAIR WITCH, but it is a very good horror movie in its own right, one that horror fans especially should definitely check out.
It’s much better than THE TURNING (2020) which came out earlier this year, and it’s also witch brooms ahead of some of the horror films from last year, clinkers like PET SEMATARY (2019), ANNABELLE COMES HOME (2019), and THE CURSE OF LA LLORONA (2019).
In spite of these inferior entries, horror movies, contrary to popular opinion, are alive and well and have been thriving these past twenty years. There have been a lot of quality horror films during this time. In fact, already here in 2020 there have been some really good horror flicks, films like UNDERWATER (2020) and THE INVISIBLE MAN (2020).
And you can go ahead and add THE WRETCHED to that list.
It’s quality horror at its best.
Now, pass me that ladle. I need to sample what’s brewing here in the cauldron.
Seems like it might also draw some subconscious childhood-memory power from Hansel and Gretel… I will have to check this one out!