The Dark and the Wicked review – one of the scariest new films of 2020

November 2, 2020 (Last updated: last month)
Alix Turner 0
Film, Film Reviews


Striking, scary, and at times beautiful rural horror film from Bryan Bertino. Watch it if you like your horror somber and atmospheric; avoid if you have any fondness for sheep or carrots.

Are there any horror film fans out there who do not admire Bryan Bertino’s The Strangers? The sense of dread, of not knowing why the seemingly decent folk are being terrorized, not knowing which direction it is going to come from next. The Dark and the Wicked is successful in just the same way, but with some clear differences.

The Dark and the Wicked is the story of brother and sister Michael (Michael Abbott Jr.) and Louise (Marin Ireland) Straker, who return home to the farm when they hear Father (Michael Zagst) is dying. Mother (Julie Oliver-Touchstone) and a nurse care for him, but it seems to be a long, slow decline: Mother tells them they shouldn’t have come, but she is utterly miserable and it is clear she is crying out for some relief. It’s not just Father’s illness which is causing her strain, though: very soon, the siblings have no choice but to recognize there is a serious black cloud hanging over their home. But what is causing it? Religious superstition, the weight of family responsibility and mental ill-health, or is something supernatural terrorizing the Strakers?

The overall mood of the film reminded me of Hereditary, and indeed it is just as scary as Hereditary but (apart from a couple of scenes) not so blunt, by a long way. One after the other, the family picks up on Mother’s bad vibes, assuming at first that grief was getting to their imagination. Over the course of a week (complete with day-by-day countdown), they find out it is not that simple.

Bertino has written and directed another film of – like The Strangers – inescapable malevolence. When we can see it, it’s bloody horrible. When we can’t, we feel like we will at any moment. The music by Tom Schraeder added to this suspense. Sometimes twinkling, sometimes single notes or bars just to reinforce the slow pace; the absolute opposite of an overdone score.

I admired the whole thing, so much of the film had me holding my breath. The shocking images were largely simple ones; some small, such as a spider on the sick man’s face, and some big enough to overwhelm. Small, seemingly harmless poltergeist-type activities can be unnerving at the best of times. But Michael and Louise start to have experiences that cannot just be brushed off, first uncanny and steadily downright dangerous.

The acting is superb, especially on the parts of both Marin Ireland and Michael Abbott Jr. They each expressed sorrow, disbelief, and fear in their own ways, and so relatable. I could have shouted at them a few times, like my own sibling – leave! Burn the place down! – but for the most part, I just saw and understood what they were going through.

One thing I actually loved about The Dark and the Wicked was Tristan Nyby’s cinematography, especially the beautiful skies above the rural landscape. The indoor scenes were often dark, but never dark enough to make it difficult to see what was going on (though trust me, there was a kitchen scene early on that you’d wish was unlit). Mirrors and windows were used effectively, and there were several instances of subtle shadows that might or might not have been something more. Granted, there was the opposite sometimes, true jump scares; but they were never false ones, always fitted with the development of the story.

The Dark and the Wicked is certainly one to watch if you are craving something moody and shocking, but without being sensational. This is a serious film, morbid for a while, and then declaring those who are doomed can expect no help from God.

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