The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Shudder] - THE DARK AND THE WICKED | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [Shudder] - THE DARK AND THE WICKED

The Dark and the Wicked review
Two siblings are menaced by a malevolent force in the wake of their mother's suicide.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Bryan Bertino

Starring: Marin Ireland, Michael Abbott Jr., Julie Oliver-Touchstone, Xander Berkeley, Ella Ballantine

The Dark and the Wicked poster

If you've watched enough horror movies you've no doubt found yourself shouting at characters to "Just leave the effin' house already!" at some point. With The Dark and the Wicked, writer/director Bryan Bertino finds a novel way to get around this. His protagonists - adult siblings Louise (Marin Ireland) and Michael (Michael Abbott Jr) - can't leave their parents' haunted farmhouse because their Dad (Michael Zagst) is bedridden with a terminal condition, and any attempt to move him will likely result in his immediate death.

The Dark and the Wicked review

Bertino's films generally follow a set format whereby his protagonists are dealing with relatable problems - a failing marriage in The Strangers and drug addiction in The Monster - only to then find themselves battling some less grounded, external foe. This continues with The Dark and the Wicked, which begins like a Sundance indie about siblings returning home and dealing with the guilt they feel over neglecting their parents. But then the Devil shows up and it becomes a literal fight for survival.

As if dealing with their father's condition wasn't enough for Louise and Michael, a day after arriving home their mother (Julie Oliver-Touchstone) hangs herself in the farm's barn. The assigned hospice nurse (Lynn Andrews) - one of those "magic Catholic" types so beloved of American horror movies - tells Louise and Michael that she had been worried for their Mom, who had spoken about something being out to get her. A perusal of their late mother's diary confirms that she believed an evil presence was haunting the farm.

The Dark and the Wicked review

Another magic Catholic arrives in the form of a sinister priest (Xander Berkeley), who claims he warned their mother and is now giving Louise and Michael the same advice - GTFO the farm before it's too late! Louise and Michael are atheists, as was their mother, and they dismiss the clergyman's warnings as the ravings of a twisted fundamentalist. This sets up an interesting dynamic that the film sadly fails to explore. As someone who doesn't believe in God, "Evil" or the supernatural, part of the appeal of the horror genre for me is the idea that I might be wrong and that Evil may exist whether I believe in it or not. As Berkeley's priest puts it, "A wolf doesn't care if you don't believe in wolves." But the priest figure devolves into a cheap prop, initially delivering a bit of spooky exposition and then being employed for a couple of jump scares.

Bertino exploits his film's isolated setting to create a spooky atmosphere, greatly aided by sound design that surrounds us with whistling gusts of wind, creaky barn doors and the constant cries of the farm's herd of goats. Jump scares are thankfully kept to a minimum, and there are some nice moments involving shadows and half-glimpsed figures in the background. But most of the film's effectiveness comes courtesy of the performance of Ireland as one of those all too rare horror heroines who seems as genuinely terrified as she should be given the scenario she's facing. The best horror heroines are those who find the strength to face the antagonist yet remain realistically petrified (the original Halloween's Laurie Strode being the prime example), and Ireland's Louise falls into that category.

The Dark and the Wicked review

Where The Dark and the Wicked fails is in its mythology, or rather lack thereof. It's never made clear just what it is Louise and Michael are up against here, and the malevolent force that menaces them seems to work in contradictory ways. Initially it seems to assume the form of deceased loved ones to taunt its chosen victims, but then we later see it appear as people who are total strangers to Louise and Michael. No explanation is given for why it has chosen to pick on the inhabitants of this seemingly random farmhouse. With no rules established, Bertino's film feels like it's making up its mythology on the fly, and so it's difficult to get invested in a movie where anything can seemingly happen at any given time without rhyme or reason.

The Dark and the Wicked
 is on Shudder from February 25th.

2021 movie reviews