THE DARK AND THE WICKED *** USA 2020 Dir: Bryan Bertino. 95 mins
Filmed on a meager budget on the farm of talented writer-director Bertino, this is a supremely creepy mood piece unfolding, as in THE SHINING, over a period of increasingly blurred days of the week appearing onscreen to ever more disorientating effect. In a further Stephen King nod, the backdrop is ‘Straker Farm’ in Thurber, Texas.
As with other recent, standout horror movies like RELIC, the set-up offers an authentically miserable but convincing real-life horror: two siblings (Marin Ireland, Michael Abbott Jr) have reunited to help their mom while their father, a shadow of his former self, slowly dies. Uncomfortable dialogue exchanges dominate: no one knows what to say to each other, or even whether they should be hugging. There is also Something in the house. Noises in the night. A severed finger in the kitchen. Voices, visions. An atheist family facing up to their matriarch’s belief that the Devil is coming.
It’s extremely well acted (Xander Berkeley has fun as an odd priest) and hinges on potent parental nightmares: things that are so personally intimately disturbing – like Abbott Jr confronted by his grinning, dead…and, most disconcertingly, naked mother, while his sister suddenly realises their ailing, wheezing, disorientated Dad has just crept into bed with her. The sense of dread is almost overwhelming, though the relatively subtle first half is notably more impactful than the more shock-driven latter stages. Certain cliches (including the use of creepy vinyl as in Bertino’s mainstream hit THE STRANGERS) take the edge off a tad, but the needle drop in question does accompany a genuinely horrific reveal that might be nightmare fuel for some.
Review by Steven West