Bart Pierce worked on the effects crew for The Evil Dead, so it’s probably fitting that when his sons Brett and Drew became filmmakers they chose to make genre films as well, Dead/Undead and Deadheads. Now their third film, shot under the title Hag, makes its world premiere at Fantasia 2019 as The Wretched. Unlike the previous two this one is billed as straight horror, no comedy involved. And its a better film for it.
Ben (John-Paul Howard, 14 Cameras) is a 17-year-old with issues. Not the least of them is his parent’s separation and inevitable divorce. He’s spending the summer with his father and working at the marina with Mallory (Piper Curda, School Spirits). But since this is a horror film and not a coming of age sex comedy something has to go very wrong. And it does. An evil spirit from the woods attaches itself to the family next door, using the mother Abbie (Zarah Mahler, Nightmare Cinema, Beyond Skyline) as its host.
From the film’s prologue, we know what this thing is capable of. We can also guess that Ben will be the only one to realize what’s going on, and nobody will believe him. Nobody, of course, but the witch herself.
The Wretched doesn’t break, apart from one twist in the last act, new ground. We’ve seen these characters and situations before right down to plants withering in the creature’s wake. But I doubt the Pierce Brothers thought they were being original either. They’ve taken these elements and built a suspenseful, energetic take on them. There’s elements of Rear Window, The Guardian, I Am Not A Serial Killer, even the original Invaders From Mars mixed in. The result isn’t really retro, apart from the 1980s set prologue. But it isn’t just a rehash either, it’s more like a re-invigoration of these well-worn tropes.
One thing that definitely helps The Wretched succeed are its effects, both visual and sound. They are, appropriately practical as far as I can tell. There’s enough of an ick factor to them without going overboard. And when we get a good look at the witch in its natural state the design and execution of the makeup are convincingly creepy.
Having just made its debut at Fantasia The Wretched will be playing the festival circuit through the summer. You can check for dates, and hopefully news on distribution via its Facebook page.