Thursday, November 05, 2020

Bertino’s The Dark and the Wicked

It is a hard fact of horror husbandry that goats portend bad things (check out The Witch or the insane Night Gallery episode with Vincent Price and Bill Bixby). Louise’s farmer parents probably raise more sheep, but you know where lambs are led, right? That is pretty much what a mysterious malevolent force intends for her family too in director-screenwriter Bryan Bertino’s The Dark and the Wicked, which releases in theaters and on VOD tomorrow.

Reluctantly, grown siblings Louise and Michael have returned home to help their mother care for their essentially comatose father, but they are more alarmed by her state of mind. She is depressed, delusional, and ultimately (successfully) suicidal. The discovery of her diary only raises more questions.

It seems their mother was desperately trying to protect their father’s soul from some sort of vaguely defined, but tangibly demonic evil. Initially, they assume she was not in her right mind, but they soon experience enough sinister visions and freak incidents to make them believers. They are further rattled by a visit from a mysterious preacher, who claims to be their atheist mother’s spiritual advisor. He makes the “Reverend” from
Night of the Hunter look like Mr. Rogers.

is a stylish exercise in dusty, wind-swept Americana terror, like a horror movie breaking out amid Wyeth’s Christina’s World. Just as he did with The Monster, Bertino has crafted an unusually moody and dread-infused film. Viewers will practically choke on the stifling atmosphere. In this case, never fully spelling out just what the heck is going on only heightens the feeling of unease. This is impressive genre filmmaking on every level, but it is also exhausting.

As the siblings, Marin Ireland and Michael Abbott Jr. look and act impeccably like real, Middle American people. As a result, their panic, confusion, and terror also come across as genuine. You could be very much like them in general, but you absolutely would not want to be them specifically. It is also worth noting the always reliable character actor Xander Berkeley gives what could be the truly creepiest performance of his career as the strange preacher.

By horror movie standards,
D&W is not particularly graphic, but there are moments that are truly horrifying, in the truest sense of the word. Aesthetically, it will appeal to critics championing “elevated horror,” but it is still genuinely scary enough to satisfy traditional horror fans. Highly recommended, The Dark and the Wicked releases tomorrow (11/6) in select theaters and on VOD platforms.