James Jay Edwards

The Wretched Touches Upon Brilliance Before Being Completely Forgotten

(The Wretched, IFC Films)

James Jay Edwards reviews The Wretched, a new horror movie written and directed by brothers Brett and Drew T. Pierce.

 

The first things to close with the current world lockdown were the movie theaters. And the big studios have taken to releasing their movies directly to the home market to try and recoup some of their losses. But horror fans are used to movies being released straight to video-on-demand. And those movies are usually a lot like The Wretched.

The Wretched is about a teenage boy named Ben (John-Paul Howard from Midnight, Texas) who has discovered his rebellious side following the separation of his parents. To gain a little structure and discipline in his life, he comes to stay with his father (General Hospital’s Jamison Jones) and work at Dad’s marina for the summer. Ben immediately notices strange happenings at the neighbors’ house, culminating in the disappearance of the couple’s children. To complicate matters, when asked about them, the neighbors deny ever having had children. Ben and his new friend Mallory (Piper Curda from I Didn’t Do It) start to snoop around, but soon regret it when they uncover the sinister supernatural force behind the weirdness.

 

(The Wretched, theatrical release poster, IFC Films)

The Wretched was written and directed by Brett and Drew T. Pierce, the pair of brothers behind the revisionist zombie comedy Deadheads. Thankfully, it’s not a zombie movie. It’s more of a dark fairy tale, a demonic witch kind of a movie. At least, that’s what it is when it’s not being a straight-up coming-of-age story.

Tonally, The Wretched flip flops back and forth frequently, sometimes within the same scene. While Ben is at a party drinking and skinny dipping with the local kids, his father’s neighbors are fighting off a paranormal entity that is stealing their children (and wiping their memories of the whole ordeal when it’s done). The Wretched goes from the insecurities of teenage angst to the horrors of supernatural shapeshifting almost too comfortably. It can’t decide if it wants to be Goonies or The Conjuring.

 

(The Wretched, IFC Films)

Schizophrenic cinematic vibes aside, the narrative itself is pretty well-crafted. The story is fresh, at least as far as paranormal thrillers go, and the Pierce Brothers allow the mystery to dig itself deeper with every revelatory scene. There are even times when the audience doubts its own eyes, thinking that maybe, just maybe, Ben is making everything up, even though they’ve seen everything that he knows to be true. It’s a fascinating little bit of psychological gymnastics.

And it all leads to an almost brilliant ending. From out of nowhere, Pierce and Pierce pull a Shyamalanian carpet out from under the audience, and it almost works. That’s an “almost” because, when it’s all revealed, it’s confusing as all hell. Sure, the movie explains itself out, but by the time it does, the shock is gone and the impact is lost. It’s a genius plot move, it’s just not executed very well.

 

(The Wretched, IFC Films)

Like any horror movie, The Wretched leans heavily into its villain; and the witch, or demon, or monster, or whatever it is, is one for the ages. The Pierce Boys conceived of their antagonist by consulting and appropriating different mythologies and legends, and what winds up onscreen is a downright horrifying creation by makeup effects artist Erik Porn, who has worked on everything from Scream Queens to Teen Wolf. Listed in the credits as The Wretch (and played by a very un-Wretchy looking actress named Madelynn Stuenkel), the creature effectively (and predictably) provides the best scares in the movie, aside from one horrific scene involving a police officer and a dog.

The Sons of Pierce also drew upon their experiences with their own parents’ divorce for inspiration, and because of this, The Wretched does have moments of heart and soul to it, although those moments are brief and a tad bit superficial. The divorce backstory does provide a solid thesis for the movie’s thoughtful erasure metaphor, though. So, while it may be a shallow fright flick on the surface, The Wretched does have something to say about relationships and human nature.

 

(The Wretched, IFC Films)

But The Wretched is still not a very deep movie. Truth be told, it’s just enough to tide the viewer over until the next VOD horror movie comes along. And the next one will be along shortly to wipe this one from memory.

 

 

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