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IFI Horrorthon 2019 Review - THE WRETCHED

the wretched review
A teenager attempts to scupper a centuries old witch.


Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Brett Pierce, Drew T. Pierce

Starring: John-Paul Howard, Piper Curda, Jamison Jones, Azie Tesfai, Zarah Mahler, Kevin Bigley

the wretched poster




With The Wretched, writing/directing brothers Brett and Drew Pierce take a very 1950s sci-fi idea, the 'assimilation' terror of movies like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Invaders From Mars, and combine it with the '80s teen-horror thrills of Fright Night and The Gate.

the wretched review


Opening with an '80s set prologue in which a babysitter is trapped in a basement along with a barely glimpsed horror, The Wretched then cuts to the present day, where teenager Ben (John-Paul Howard) has left the home he shares with his divorced mother to spend the summer helping his Dad (Jamison Jones) with his boat rental business. Ben hasn't forgiven his parents for their separation, and makes life difficult for his old man at every turn, staying out drinking with the local teens and behaving obnoxiously to his Dad's new girlfriend (Azie Tesfai).

[ READ MORE: IFI Horrorthon 2019 Review - Bullets of Justice ]

Amid all this, Ben begins to suspect something funny is going on in the rural community he's been dropped into for the summer. And he's not wrong. The next door neighbours have been infiltrated by some sort of monster that crawled out of a deer carcass they brought home, and the woman of the house (Zarah Mahler) appears to have been possessed by a malevolent entity. along with her husband (Kevin Bigley), she also seems to have forgotten that they ever had an infant child, who has mysteriously vanished.

the wretched review


The Wretched plays heavily on the well-worn horror staple of a young protagonist who struggles to convince the grown-ups in his life of the horrors he has stumbled upon. When you're a teen, it can often feel like nobody understands you, and movies like this can strike a real chord with a young audience. But it's not just the adults who ignore Ben's claims, as his work colleague/love interest, Mallory (Piper Curda), initially refuses to believe him. Ben's frustration is what fuels the narrative, and the Pierce brothers cleverly make him a nuanced character who isn't all that easy to warm to, which makes you sympathise with those who believe he's simply seeking attention (he sports a cast on his arm from a previous bout of adolescent rage). When this boy cries wolf, nobody notices the paw prints on their lawn.

[ READ MORE: IFI Horrorthon 2019 Review - Why Don't You Just Die! ]

The Pierces' film boasts an intriguing horror concept at its core, that of an entity that makes you forget your loved ones. It's a unique variation on the premise of being brainwashed or assimilated into some larger whole, not so much a loss of the self as a loss of what you hold dear. The writer/directors try to get a little too clever with their idea by pulling a late plot twist that makes no sense when squared with the perspective the story has adopted up to that point. It's essentially a cheat, one that really derails the film's momentum just at a point when the tension should be ramping up, as the entire audience mouths a collective sigh of "Wait...what?"

the wretched review


On the surface, The Wretched has a lot going for it - charismatic young leads, a great creature design and a chilling central concept - but it never quite digs beneath that surface to explore just how interesting its ideas could be if fleshed out by more nuanced filmmakers. Ultimately it's another post-Stranger Things genre film that is too comfortable evoking nostalgia for previous eras of cinema when it could be contributing something fresh to a contemporary wave of smart horror.

A UK/ROI release has yet to be announced.




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