Bryan Bertino gained widespread acclaim with his debut feature The Strangers. However, neither of his following films, Mockingbird and The Monster found the same reception. The Dark and the Wicked sees him pulling out all the stops to try and rebuild his reputation. Not having been a huge fan of his previous films, I might not be the right person to ask. But if this film doesn’t put him back on the map I don’t know what will.
Louise (Marin Ireland, The Empty Man, Piercing) and her brother Michael (Michael Abbott Jr, Mud, The Death of Dick Long) can’t remember when they last visited their parent’s farm. But they’re going back now. Their father (Michael Zagst) is dying and doesn’t have much time left. Their mother (Julie Oliver-Touchstone, Bounded by Evil) tells them not to. And insists they leave almost as soon as they arrive.
The next morning Michael finds their mother hanging in the barn, from a beam she couldn’t have reached without a ladder. It soon becomes clear that something evil is haunting the farm. Something with its sights on their father’s soul.
If nothing else, The Dark and the Wicked is a well-named film. It is grim and dark, at times to the point of hopelessness. This is a film with a very bleak atmosphere, which is understandable. On a strictly human level, it’s dealing with depression, estrangement, the disintegration of family ties. Louise and Micheal aren’t just distant from their parents, they’re strangers to each other now. But they do have something left in common. Guilt as having left their mother to deal with the farm and their father’s worsening condition. It’s not exactly a happy reunion.
Then there’s the matter of whatever entity is stalking the family. Much of the film is slow-burning. It’s power gradually being revealed via everything from diary entries to increasingly malevolent demonstrations of its abilities. Especially its ability to deceive, to make people think they see some fairly horrifying things. Things that can lead them to doubt what their eyes see. Or to believe and do equally horrible things.
Admittedly some of what The Dark and the Wicked gives us is overly familiar. The atheist who has suddenly become devout. The mysterious and potentially evil priest (Xander Berkeley, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Shanghai Noon). Phone calls from the dead. Animals turning up dead.
Bertino uses these tropes to let us know right from the start that, no matter what the characters may choose to believe, that the supernatural is at work here. And watching it inexorably grow more powerful is where he pulls The Dark and the Wicked’s real fear from. Not the jump scares but the presence of this demon and a sense of there being no one being able to stop it.
The Dark and the Wicked was filmed on Bertino’s farm, and he uses his familiarity with it the get the best possible shots and the most wring maximum atmosphere out of them. He backs those visuals up with sound effects and a score that are designed to give the viewer a sense of dread and unease.
Bertino lets all of this simmer until the last act. By that point, my nerves were on edge and I was more than ready for everything to blow up. And it does. The last half hour of The Dark and the Wicked is bloody, unrelentingly bleak and powerful.
RLJE Films will release The Dark and the Wicked in theatres, On Digital and On-Demand on November 6th. DVD and Blu Ray release is currently set for December 15th. Streaming network Shudder turn up in the credits so I would expect it to turn up their at some point after that.