By: Emily von Seele
One of my most anticipated films out of Fantasia 2020 was Brian Bertino’s new film, The Dark And The Wicked. I am a massive fan of The Strangers and The Monster, and Bertino’s latest didn’t disappoint in the slightest. The Dark And The Wicked is a horror film that will shake you to your very core. A focused story, filled with emotion and dread, it brings an emotional boogeyman that can stand alongside the monsters from The Babadook or Relic.
Set on an isolated Texas farm, Louisa (Marin Ireland) and Michael (Michael Abbott Jr.) have returned to their childhood home to help care for their elderly father in his final days. As soon as they arrive, the spectre of Death fills the screen. From the wide landscapes to the cozy farmhouse, something foreboding hovers over this family. Waiting. Biding its time.
Their mother (Julie Oliver-Touchstone) behaves strangely from the moment of their arrival. She wanders the farm at all hours, lashes out, and tells Louisa that she shouldn’t have come. Meanwhile, both Louisa and Michael begin seeing strange and horrifying things that become impossible to ignore. In a house playing host to Death, anything can be lurking in the shadows.
The Dark And The Wicked is both a brilliant horror film and a thoughtful meditation on life and the passing of loved ones. In a sense, the horror at this family’s door cannot be stopped. Their father is dying. It is only a matter of time. And that knowledge — that waiting — has created a monster that cannot be controlled or defended against.
The film is paced deliberately, offering glimpses and indicators that all is not well, but not jumping into the fray too early. After a few terrifying moments early on, Bertino takes his time in unleashing the full force of his story. This allows for some great moments of character building, as well as more time for the audience to really sink into the emotions experienced by the characters. The sadness and the loss and the fear and the incomprehensible sense of inevitability.
Bertino creates something of a visual confusion throughout the film, and it really helps to set the mood and amplify the tension. Nothing that the characters see can be trusted, yet the presence they sense is 100% with them. It creates an atmosphere where danger is imminent but difficult to pinpoint. Dark specters can be seen throughout the film — sometimes noticed by the characters, other times not. We know that somehow this family has been marked.
One notable highlight of the movie is Xander Berkeley’s performance as the creepiest preacher this side of Poltergeist II. It’s one of those roles that has minimum screen time, yet uses it to maximum effect. And maximum creepy. Seriously — this guy is almost as frightening as the monster itself.
The Dark And The Wicked is one of those horror films that people will be praising for years to come, and rightfully so. It is skillfully made and well-acted and plays upon some all too human fears that we all have, buried deep down inside.