★★★★ out of ★★★★★
Probably the bleakest feel-bad horror film of this year, Bryan Bertino’s latest is a triumph of macabre fear fare.
Directed by Bryan Bertino
Perhaps the darkest, bleakest horror film since The Lodge, writer/director Bryan Bertino’s latest feature The Dark and the Wicked is an uncompromising look at a distanced family and the supernatural terror that creeps into their lives. There is a constant sense of dread that can pervade horror films, and then there is the whole new level to which Bertino takes it here.
Louise (Marin Ireland) and her brother Michael (Michael Abbott Jr.) return to the family farm in rural Texas where they grew up because their father (Michael Zagst) is dying. Their mother (Julie Oliver-Touchstone) is showing signs that things are obviously not right in her head, and she clearly does not want the siblings to be there. Louise and Michael stubbornly insist on staying to help with their father and the farm, and tragedy strikes as an otherworldly force makes its presence horribly known, slowly creeping into the minds and souls of each of the family members.
This is heavy, heady stuff, with Bertino tackling occult, religious, and psychological horror, adding plenty of grue to the proceedings. No comic relief is in sight as the parents and their adult children — self-proclaimed nonreligious people — try to wrap their heads around what evil is overtaking their home and property.
Bertino, whose previous works include the home invasion chiller The Strangers and the excellent creature feature The Monster, has crafted an unsettling film that gets under your skin and stays there. Each of his eerie set pieces boasts white-knuckle tension, and what may initially feel like following familiar beats leads into explosions of frightening, chaotic terror. Visions that seem real to the character prove to be elusive except that physical clues often point to these illusions having possible real-world validity. Louise and Michael are caught in a maddening space where they cannot trust what they think they see with their own eyes.
Marin Ireland carries the bulk of The Dark and the Wicked as Louise, and her terrified reactions to what surrounds her on the isolated farm feel realistic. She and Abbott Jr. have fine chemistry together. Though their distanced, melancholy characters are not the most talkative communicators, they come across as troubled siblings trying too late to hold their fractured family together. The supporting cast is also top-notch, including Xander Berkeley (The Candyman, and the TV series The Walking Dead and Salem) as a mysterious priest.
Bertino has already proven that he can create horror with exceptional family drama at its core with The Monster. He takes that even further with The Dark and the Wicked, adding it to the list of superb recent horror outings with similar themes such as Hereditary, Relic, The Witch, The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw, and The Haunting of Hill House TV series. It is grim, somber, nasty, and merciless to its characters, going to the darkest places where many modern horror films have dared not venture.
The Dark and the Wicked from RLJE Films and Shudder is available in theaters and on demand and digital from November 6th.