Marin Ireland as Louise
Michael Abbott Jr. as Michael
Xander Berkeley as Priest
Lynn Andrews as Nurse
Julie Oliver-Touchstone as Mother
Michael Zagst as Father
Tom Nowicki as Charlie
Written and Directed by Bryan Bertino
The Dark and the Wicked Review:
Ever since his popular debut The Strangers, writer/director Bryan Bertino has frequently explored the idea that pastoral life may not be as idyllic as it seems to be, that being away from the city can help one avoid the evils of the world, putting it in familiar horror genre formulas and stories and his latest effort, The Dark and the Wicked, certainly continues this filmmaking approach with mostly shocking results.
On a secluded farm, a man is slowly dying. Bedridden and fighting through his final breaths, his wife is slowly succumbing to overwhelming grief. To help their mother and say goodbye to their father, siblings Louise (Marin Ireland) and Michael (Michael Abbott Jr.) return to their family farm. It doesn’t take long for them to see that something’s wrong with mom, though—something more than her heavy sorrow. Gradually, as their own grief mounts, Louise and Michael begin suffering from a darkness similar to their mother’s, marked by waking nightmares and a growing sense that something evil is taking over their family.
Between Natalie Erika James’ Relic, Jayro Bustamente’s La Llorona and The Pierce Brothers’ The Wretched, audiences have been treated to a real swathe of emotionally-driven horror films of families broken down by the slow, creeping invasion of an evil force, be it mental illness, past sins coming back or something far sinister, and The Dark and the Wicked really doesn’t feel that different from the bunch with its narrative. Centered on siblings returning to their family farm in the wake of a slowly-dying father and increasingly-maddening mother, the setup for the film feels rather generic and uninvolved, giving viewers no real time to connect with the characters before plunging them even further into terror.
What helps set the story apart from other similar genre outings of late, however, is simply how quick it’s willing to dive into events that align with its chilling title. Even with a runtime of just 93 minutes, Bertino doesn’t elect to go for an ominous and slowly-paced piece but rather runs right into delivering some truly shocking moments. From food prepping turned bloody to a horrifying loss and consistent visits by an unknown evil entity, Bertino keeps viewers invested in the tale by putting his foot down on the gas pedal and rarely letting up on the dreary nature of the story, including the horrendous sight of a field of slaughtered animals, even if the shot is from a distance that leaves some of its grislier elements to the viewers’ imaginations.
That being said, however, the story still proves to be the biggest flaw of the film as Bertino can’t quite seem to find the right balance of tapping into his themes of grief and fears of death with the horrific events throughout. He certainly presents these themes in a promising manner and makes an effort to explore them, but in what appears to be a desire to shock his audience more than to try and have them reflect, it loses its way and can never seem to find the right path for both.
Even when the story is faltering, however, the film remains compelling solely for the lead performance of star Marin Ireland as the torn human Louise, as well as a strong supporting turn from Michael Abbott Jr. as brother Michael, ready to run and put the whole farm in his rear view despite his desire to be a proper family man for his birth and married families. Both bring a really deep and authentic humanity to their roles that make every revelation and shock all the more devastating to watch and should propel them both to more leading roles.
Overall, The Dark and the Wicked may not be the most original genre effort out there, leaving many of its themes high and dry in favor of some truly dreadful shocks, but thanks to doing the latter effectively and the compelling performances from its leads, it proves to be another successful outing from writer/director Bertino.