The Dark and the Wicked certainly delivers on its title. Written and directed by Bryan Bertino (The Strangers), this eerie exercise in existential terror follows a family through their darkest moments.
“Father” (Michael Zagst) is on this deathbed, so naturally, his two adult children Louise (Marin Ireland) and Michael (Michael Abbott Jr.) want to be there for him. In spite of “Mother” (Julie Oliver-Touchstone) vehemently telling them: “Don’t come,” they do. Michael leaves behind his wife and two daughters for what he thinks will be only a few days, and Louise arrives at the secluded family farm at about the same time. It’s dark outside—and inside. The elderly couple’s home looks like something out of a horror movie… oh, wait. It is! Seriously, though—it’s a dimly-lit, dirty-looking hovel that looks like the perfect place to die horribly.
Before long, Louis and Michael notice that there is something more than the expected grief and dread of being alone consuming their mother. She’s plagued by nightmares and visions of unspeakable evil, and she is virtually drowning in sorrow and hopelessness. Soon after her children arrive to hold vigil, she commits suicide, leaving them open to the forces that haunted her.
There are a few other characters in The Dark and the Wicked. Father has a day nurse (Lynn Andrews), a doctor (Mel Cowan), a priest (Xander Berkeley). These people may be caregivers on the surface, but once they enter the house of horrors, they too become susceptible to the dark and wicked forces. A nightmarish tableau is laid out, leaving the viewer to decide—at least, until it’s revealed in the end—what is real and what is imagination.
Bertino is not a filmmaker in a hurry. Not when it comes to the film itself (The Dark and the Wicked is a slow burn) and not in his career (this is his fourth directorial outing in 12 years). I have seen his debut, The Strangers (2008), and The Monster (2016). I missed Mockingbird (2014), but it’s safe to assert that he’s a filmmaker with a unique, old-school sensibility. He clearly is influenced by 70s-style scares along the lines of The Last House on the Left, The Exorcist, and The Tenant.
The Dark and the Wicked is nihilistic as can be, and is in line with Bertino’s previous offerings—there are no explanations, no backstories, and certainly no happy endings. One of the most chilling moments in The Strangers came after one victim asked, “Why us?” and the reply was, “Because you were home.” In the case of The Dark and the Wicked, I would have liked at least a hint as to what attracted such an evil, malevolent force to a seemingly blameless family. I felt a bit cheated in the end, yet I do admire Bertino’s adherence to his sensibilities. The film certainly sticks with you, and that cannot be said of the many horror flicks these days.
If you’re looking for something really and truly horrifying to watch alone in the gloom this winter, don’t miss The Dark and the Wicked.