In 2008, filmmaker Bryan Bertino announced himself to the genre world with home invasion horror, The Strangers. The film starred Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman as a couple terrorised by a group of mask-wearing teenagers and would go on to revive the home invasion genre. Now twelve years later, Bertino returns to a secluded house surrounded by wilderness for his latest film, The Dark and the Wicked.
The Dark and the Wicked is a film that takes its time revealing the story. Told across the course of a week, the film is a melancholy slow-burn filled with grief and despair. Lily and Michael return to their family home to help their mother look after their dying father. Once home, they soon realise that something isn’t quite right with mum, and the next day they find her dead, a suspected suicide. As they deal with their grief, they realise that the farm has been infected by a dark and wicked entity, one that wants them all to itself.
The slow drawn-out pacing of the narrative will not be to everyone’s liking, and at times it does test even the most patient. It also falls into the mumblecore branch of film-making in which it is almost impossible to fully hear, let alone understand, what anyone is saying. Thankfully, due to the nature of the story-telling, there isn’t a whole lot of dialogue to miss. So instead, when watching The Dark and the Wicked, you have to rely on the sensations and feelings that the film gives you. Bertino does his best to illicit a sense of dread and bewilderment, and mostly succeeds. The air does feel heavy with tension at times, and the scare sequences as Lily and Michael begin to hallucinate, land pretty well. It also helps that the film is set over a week, and as each new day begins, we get a title card announcing that day. Those savvy to the genre will know that it’s likely building up to something big, and the anticipation is enjoyably built.
It’s in the gore that this film really comes into its own though. That’s not to say that it’s on display in a grand excessive fashion, that would be very out of tone with the rest of the piece, but what little there is, hits home. As is often the case, less is more, and Bertino uses that adage to his advantage; for at least a couple of days, you’ll be wary of chopping your carrots during meal prep. The entity, whatever it may be, is very persuasive, especially when it comes to getting people to inflict self-harm – so brace yourself for lots of little moments; death by a thousand cuts if you will.
A melancholy, slow-burn that will divide audiences, The Dark and the Wicked won’t set the world alight as The Strangers did, but offers enough dread and winch-inducing injury to make for a satisfying watch.
The Dark and the Wicked
A melancholy study of grief and despair set within the familiar haunted house setting.