The Dark And The Wicked is the latest horror offering from writer/director Bryan Bertino, writer and director of the critically acclaimed The Strangers, coming exclusively to Shudder following its debut at the Fantasia International Film Festival last year.
The film sees an estranged brother and sister, Michael (Michael Abbott Jr.) and Louise (Marin Ireland) returning to their parents farm in Texas when their father’s illness worsens. With their father confined to his bed in an uncommunicative state, the siblings try to help their mother, but discover that she seems to be acting a lot stranger than they first expected. Initially chalking her behaviour up to stress they’re shocked when they find their mother after she hangs herself in the barn.
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Upon going through their mother’s things the siblings discover a diary she kept, where she chronicled the strange experiences she was having, about whispered voices in the night, horrifying visions, and the entity that she believed was after her husband’s soul. Soon Michael and Louise begin to experience unsettling things on the farm themselves.
From the very beginning The Dark And The Wicked has an oppressiveness to it that very quickly gets under your skin. Thanks to the limited colour pallete, making use of dark brown, greys, and muted greens, the film’s visual style is very dull, though never boring. The scenes look pretty enough, but the constant lack of brightness and bold colours soon builds up, adding to the lonely and suffocating feel of the film. This feeling is further enhanced by the musical score designed to slowly build tension in the frightening moments, rising up from very quiet moments into an almost disturbing and heavy cacophony of sound as the viewers are drawn into the scares.
This oppressive and heavy atmosphere is very much intentional, and not just to try and create a tone for the film, but because the subject matter is something that we would all find disturbing; even without the supernatural scares. The film deals heavily with loss, and guilt. The characters of Louise and Michael have been absent from their parents’ lives for a long time, having not visited in years, and only occasionally talking to them over the phone. By the time they finally come to help they’re unable to talk with their father, and their mother is a broken shell of her former self.
With the loss of their mother the siblings are having to not only process the loss of her life, and the upsetting and sudden circumstances around it, but are also having to try and find a way to assist their father. They’re having to process their grief whilst also figuring out a way to care for their father, and how this ongoing obligation will fit into their lives. It’s a situation that would push most of us to the extremes of our ability to cope, and I think anyone who has lost a close relative or loved one and has had to try and pick up the pieces of their life left behind will understand how overwhelming that can be at times. When you add in a supernatural force that’s bombarding the two of them with horrifying visions it’s easy to see how a film like this can get under your skin.
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The entity itself is something that seems able to affect the physical world at times, yet relies on twisting the minds of people at others. The things it does over the course of the film, the things it makes the characters and the audience see are incredibly disturbing at points, and not only made me uncomfortable but caused me to yell out loud more than once. It’s a horror film that was really able to make me feel frightened, whilst always keeping me intrigued and wanting to know what would happen next. I also happened to have a very disturbing night terror the night I watched the film, so if that was in any way influenced by this movie it’s certainly one of the most affecting films I’ve ever watched.
The Dark And The Wicked is a tense and oppressive film, one that puts its audience into a place where you’re always on your toes, where you’re checking every shadow and dark corner for something frightening. When the scares are on screen they always managed to elicit a strong reaction from me, and when they weren’t I was so absorbed in the narrative that I never once felt bored. If you have Shudder and are looking for something to watch I would highly recommend this film; and if you don’t have Shudder but were considering getting it, I’d certainly point to this movie as a very good reason to.
The Dark And The Wicked is streaming exclusively on Shudder from 25th February.