“Fun” is not a word I’d use to describe a lot of modern horror movies. But fun is exactly what “The Wretched,”—a new horror movie from IFC Midnight written and directed by brothers Brett and Drew T. Pierce—is.
“The Wretched” followed Ben (John-Paul Howard), a teenager grappling with his parents’ separation who goes to spend the summer with his father Liam (Jamison Jones) and work at the marina in the lakeside tourist town. As he watches the family renting the house next door, he realizes that something strange is going on with them. It turns out that an evil spirit from the nearby woods has infiltrated their home, a spirit that preys on children and erases all trace of their existence. With no one else believing Ben’s suspicions, he sets out to stop the Wretch once and for all.
“The Wretched” juggles a few different genres over the course of its 95 minute runtime. It has the dark, gruesome visuals and scares of a creature feature as we watch the Wretch slowly take over the home of husband and wife Ty (Kevin Bigley) and Abbie (Zarah Mahler) and their two young boys. It has the tension and intrigue of a mystery as Ben tries to get to the bottom of what happened to his neighbors—and what the creatures is going to do next. We frequently see events unravel from the perspective of him at his window, looking into the neighbors’ home from afar, not unlike “Rear Window” or “Disturbia.” And it has all the humor and drama of a retro teen movie, as Ben struggles with being bullied by the teens vacationing in the town and coming to terms with the fact that his dad has a new girlfriend, Sara (Azie Tesfai). “The Wretched” easily could have become a jumbled mess with all these different elements at play, but the Pierce brothers handle the storytelling deftly. Every choice—even small, seemingly irrelevant details—has a payoff, and the (pleasantly and genuinely surprising) twists at the end of the movie are earned. There is also an intriguing parallel to be drawn between Ben’s family falling apart due to his parents’ impending divorce and the Wretch literally destroying families, and even though the film doesn’t do quite enough to make that connection on screen, it’s still enough to link these seemingly disparate pieces of the story together. If anything, “The Wretched” is too short a film for all these elements to come together in a completely fulfilling manner. The race to the climax is exciting, but once we get there, the final showdown feels too rushed, and there are a few other plot threads that are hurried through so quickly that their emotional impact is minimized.
Still, “The Wretched” boasts solid direction and writing from the Pierce brothers, and has a talented cast to match. Howard is a protagonist who is immediately likeable despite—or maybe because of—his rebellious streak. He has a believable father-son relationship with Jones. Piper Curda, who plays Mallory, a girl who works at the marina and strikes up a friendship with Ben, has good chemistry with Howard and imbues her character with a fun, down-to-earth personality that makes her one of the standouts in the cast. Mahler, Bigley, and Tesfai also all transition nicely from normal to sinister when the scene calls for it.
“The Wretched” is just scary enough to keep you on the edge of your seat while you watch it and leave you with the slightest feeling of unease after the credits roll, just dramatic enough to keep you emotionally invested in the characters, and just light-hearted enough to make it enjoyable to watch. For a story that involves a creature that steals children, it really is a fun time at the movies—and even though we are currently deprived of enjoying this film in a crowded theater, where the inevitable succession of gasps and giggles from the audience would only enhance the experience, I think we could use that sort of escape right now.
“The Wretched” is available to watch on demand on the following platforms now: Comcast Xfinity, Spectrum (Charter, Time Warner, Brighthouse), Verizon Fios, Altice (Optimum), Cox, DirecTV, AT&T, Bend Broadband, Buckeye, Guadalupe Valley, Hotwire Communications, Metrocast, Suddenlink, WOW Internet Cable, RCN, Midcontinent Communications, iTunes, Amazon, GooglePlay, YouTube, Vudu, PlayStation, Xbox. It is also playing in select drive-in theaters around the country. Runtime: 95 minutes. Rated R. 4 out of 5 stars.