James Jay Edwards reviews The Dark and the Wicked, a horror film by director Bryan Bertino, starring Marin Ireland, Michael Abbott Jr., and Xander Berkeley. (Shudder)
In the horror world, writer/director Bryan Bertino is an enigma. Despite his films having a very distinct visual and narrative style, audiences never quite know what they’re going to get from him. He’s done the masterful home invasion thriller The Strangers, the slow-burn creature-feature The Monster, and the kind-of-found-footage flick Mockingbird. Now, add the occult horror film The Dark and the Wicked to the list.
The Dark and the Wicked is about a pair of siblings, brother Michael (Michael Abbott Jr. from The Death of Dick Long) and sister Louise (The Umbrella Academy’s Marin Ireland), who return home to the family farm to be with their dying father (Michael Zagst from Divine Access) during his final days. As they await the inevitable, they notice that something is different about their mother (Princess Principal’s Julie Oliver-Touchstone). Something sinister. Something Dark and Wicked.
(The Dark and the Wicked, theatrical release poster, RLJE Films, Shudder)
The stylistic theme to Bryan Bertino’s work is definitely “dark” and, just as the title suggests, The Dark and the Wicked takes it to a whole new level. Bertino is a master of the slow-burn, crafting narratives that seems to take forever, yet only last about 90 minutes. Incredibly, this is a good thing. Bertino is able to wring every bit of suspense out of his stories without ever letting them overstay their welcome. The Dark and the Wicked is a glacially paced tale that, honestly, would be ruined if it moved any faster.
It’s also full of dread. Sure, there’s plenty of squirmy, cringeworthy imagery, but even more important than the visuals is the overall feeling of anxiety and trepidation that packs every second of the movie. Think of it as It Comes at Night with something actually coming at night. The economical core cast is joined by a few outsiders, mostly horror tropes like the friendly neighbor (Tom Nowicki from Remember the Titans) and the creepy pastor (The Walking Dead’s Xander Berkeley), all of whom are just there to help move the creepiness along. The tension is further raised by an awesomely dissonant screechy string score from composer Tom Schraeder (Hurt, Act Super Naturally). And all of it combined delivers some Grade-A scares along the way.
(The Dark and the Wicked, RLJE Films, Shudder)
The Dark and the Wicked requires a little bit of patience, even more so than Bertino’s previous movies. It takes a while to get where it’s going, and while the buildup is masterful, it’s also slow and methodical. The narrative is purposely vague, so the viewer is constantly questioning whether it’s a ghost story, a witchcraft movie, or any one of a thousand other stereotypical plotlines. And while the story may have been done before, Bertino’s approach to it has not. And Bertino’s approach is why people see his movies.
When it comes to discussing modern horror movie masters, Bryan Bertino’s name isn’t thrown around quite as much as those of guys like Mike Flanagan, Jordan Peele, Ari Aster, and Robert Eggers. But it should be. And if he makes another movie or two like The Dark and the Wicked, it will be soon enough.