The Dark and the Wicked has strong visuals combined with a growing sense of dread, but its narrative is offering meaningless misery. It’s impressive when films try to accomplish what Hereditary did two years ago, but each attempt lately seems to forget what made that film effective. The Dark and the Wicked has all the ingredients to be great, but the script hinders it multiple times. Still, this is one of the more terrifying films to be released this year.
Religious horror films always aim to make the audience’s skin crawl, and this movie will have a few people feeling uneasy. These films tend to leave portions left for the audience to interpret as they please. However, in the case of The Dark and the Wicked, not enough is given to come to a logical conclusion regarding the central conflict. Directed and written by Bryan Bertino, the film stars Marin Ireland, Michael Abbott, Julie Touchstone, Lynn Andrews, Tom Nowicki, Michael Zagst, Xander Berkeley, and Ella Ballentine. The Dark and the Wicked follows Louise (Ireland) and Michael (Abbott), two siblings who return to their family farm to mourn their dying father (Zagst) and help their sickly mother (Touchstone). Their week-long stay suggests that a demonic presence is haunting this family.
Bertino fails to give you any reason to care about these characters because we get to know very little about them. It’s clear that Michael and Louise are atheists and they don’t share the religious views that their mother does. These small details are great, but that’s all he offers the audience. The Dark and the Wicked comes off like it just exists to cause misery with no real purpose to it. Developing the siblings could have caused a better execution because the script is lacking in many ways. A positive component from the script is the division amongst the family, as they gather to mourn the patriarch. The performances from the actors involved make the divide stronger. It’s this divide that adds to the growing evil that Bertino has chosen to haunt the family. Other than poor development, Bertino abandons the subtle approach here and conjures up more confusion as a result.
A film’s ambiguity is only effective when it can create logical outcomes. The outcomes presented here don’t feel logical for one reason or another. Thankfully, Ireland and Abbott deliver strong performances along with their on-screen parents. The depression this family struggles with is made very clear thanks to the actors, who save the film’s weak script in the process. Touchstone beautifully portrays a spouse with a broken heart, as she watches her husband slowly die while dealing with her demons too. The performances are adequate to make viewers feel sorry for the family, but not care what happens to them in the end.
Similar to The Strangers, Bertino delivers a tense, dreadful journey that will reel viewers in from the opening shot. The dread never leaves, it starts small and grows with each second that passes. There is an odd choice of pacing though, but Bertino still grips his audience and doesn’t release till the end credits begin. The shots captured in The Dark and the Wicked are very haunting, nail-biting, and disturbing. Tom Schraeder’s score will send chills down viewer’s spines, as it accompanies some horrific shots in the film. It adds another layer to the tension Bertino is creating and amplifies the feeling of unease felt throughout the film.
The Dark and the Wicked is all over the place in terms of its narrative, but it’s held up by strong performances and brilliant direction. Unfortunately, it won’t go down as one of the better religious horrors films, but it could be remembered for the haunting shots featured throughout. The Dark and the Wicked is a bland horror film for the most part with nothing too intriguing to offer the genre.