THE DARK AND THE WICKED (2020), a new horror movie by writer/director Bryan Bertino, is one of those horror movies that, while watching it, I enjoyed pretty much everything about it, and then it ends, and I’m left scratching my head asking, what was the point?
Did I really just spend 90 minutes watching the total destruction of a family on a farm? Yes. Why?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not arguing that movies have to have happy endings, because they don’t, and I like dark endings just as much as the next guy. But sometimes, and this is a gray area with horror movies, there just isn’t enough there. In this case, the characters don’t stand a chance and barely fight back. There’s hardly a struggle. They’re pretty much helpless victims throughout. And that’s just not enough for me to make investing 90 minutes of my time worth it.
In THE DARK AND THE WICKED, Louise (Marin Ireland) and her brother Michael (Michael Abbott Jr.) return to their family’s rural farm to help their mother (Julie Oliver-Touchstone) care for their ailing father, who’s in a bed in a near comatose state. It doesn’t take them long to see that something is not quite right with their mother, as she seems more disturbed than usual. Michael chalks it up to the way she is dealing with their dad’s condition, while Louise isn’t so sure. But when they discover their mom’s body hanging in their barn, after she had chopped off her own fingers, they realize something is very wrong.
And that something, they learn, is some supernatural force, a demon or perhaps the devil, that has its sights set upon stealing the souls of everyone inside the farmhouse. And it’s something Louise and Michael have a difficult time wrapping their heads around, since they, and their parents, are not religious.
And that’s a major theme of the movie, that you don’t have to believe in the devil to be his victim. As one character in the movie says, you may not believe in wolves, but if one corners you, it doesn’t much matter what you believe.
Louise and Michael are then faced with a threat that neither of them understands, nor do they know how to stop it.
THE DARK AND THE WICKED is a well-made horror movie by writer/director Bryan Bertino. Visually, it is full of creepy scenes throughout, scenes that work, and successfully get under one’s skin. The screenplay is also very good, with realistic dialogue and characters.
So, why didn’t I love this one? It’s as I said, that the film focuses on the two main characters Louise and Michael, and all that slowly happens to them on the farm, and they were just a bit too helpless for my liking. By the time the end credits roll, you realize you’ve just watched a story about folks succumbing to the evil predatory force which had been stalking them. Game over. Souls consumed. Pass the devil a napkin.
That’s just not my thing.
The two main leads are very good. Marin Ireland as Louise is the character who comes closest to fighting back. She at least refuses to give in and tries to understand what is happening to her parents and her family. Ireland delivers a natural, realistic performance.
As does Michael Abbott Jr. as Michael, who is somewhat lesser effective as a character, as he remains pretty clueless throughout. He’s an easy target for the devil.
The rest of the cast is fine in small supporting roles. Xander Berkeley, who’s enjoyed a long career and recently was very memorable as Gregory on THE WALKING DEAD (2016-18), has some eerie moments as a mysterious priest.
While I didn’t love THE DARK AND THE WICKED, I did like it. Bryan Bertino has made a good looking and spooky horror movie that only suffers from a one-sided story. The forces of darkness dominate this one. The people are pretty much reduced to dinner menu items. I enjoyed Bertino’s previous horror movie, THE MONSTER (2016) a bit better. Bertino also wrote and directed the major theatrical release THE STRANGERS (2008), a horror movie that a lot of people liked, but I didn’t.
THE DARK AND THE WICKED is exactly what its title implies. If you’re looking for any signs of light, any hope for humanity, or for characters who rise up and fight back, you won’t find them here.