Starring John-Paul Howard, Piper Curda, Zarah Mahler, Azie Tesfai, Jamison Jones
Written by Brett Pierce, Drew Pierce
Directed by Brett Pierce, Drew Pierce
Reeling from his parents’ divorce, Ben (John-Paul Howard) travels to a coastal town to stay with his estranged father for the summer. While trying to find his place among the locals and his dad’s new life (and new girlfriend), the troubled teenager notices strange happenings in the surrounding woods. Ben uncovers the source of these happenings: a thousand-year-old witch who takes over the neighbor’s body. Now, it’s up to Ben and his newfound crush to end this ancient threat.
From concept to execution, The Wretched is a wholly entertaining film written and directed by siblings Brett and Drew Pierce. This nightmarish fairytale moves from scene to scene at an expert pace, efficiently planting seeds that blossom into moments of dark tension. One of the most common complaints I have at the end of a film is that it could have been twenty minutes shorter. This film spurred the opposite reaction. Its lean story structure and clever take on the concept of a witch transfixed me minute by minute. Because it does not fit the mold of most genre films, I had no idea what would happen next, which is a delightfully rare occasion.
The Wretched’s linchpin is its unique vision of the classic occult figure. In the Pierce brothers’ story, the witch is far more interesting than a prunish hag in the sticks or a spell-casting enchantress in a corset. She’s raw, animalistic, and gruesome. Her presence emits the sensation of cracking bones, the stench of a decaying carcass, and the sound of contorting skin. The filmmakers judiciously tease this presentation, resulting in beautifully unnerving suspense and artfully-orchestrated scares.
In addition to the design of the witch, the method in which she infiltrates her human targets is especially distinctive. Akin to Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the witch invades the body of her victims, possessing their being and manipulating those around her. There’s nothing more terrifying than the idea of someone else residing underneath the skin of your loved one, particularly when that someone else is centuries worth of supernatural evil.
It’d be hard to review this movie without talking about the special FX work. The conceit of the witch burrowing herself inside the shell of a human lends itself to bloody and brutal scenes of transfiguration. Implemented sparingly and with purpose, the gore is top-notch in The Wretched. And once you learn that Brett and Drew Pierce were influenced by their father’s work on Evil Dead, you can see how blood and guts are baked into their filmmaking DNA.
The Wretched’s excellent build-up unfortunately falls flat by the third act. This flatness is largely the result of twists and turns that don’t quite add up. While hints are dropped throughout the script, there is a major reveal that alters the understanding of everything that came before it. The resolution ultimately produces more questions than answers. The ideal twist ending should be a surprising ah-ha moment for the audience. The viewer may not have guessed the ending, but when the conclusion presents itself, there’s a satisfying notion of completeness, loose ends tied up, and a desire to re-watch the film to see how it all comes together. I didn’t receive this cathartic moment when the credits rolled on The Wretched.
Despite a disappointing finale, I recommend The Wretched to anyone that’s a fan of supernatural horror. It’s not a perfect film, but I can tell you this: You won’t be bored. You’ll see some cool gore and one-of-a-kind creature design. Sounds like a kickass movie night, right?
The Wretched is a highly cinematic film, crafted with confidence and creativity. Its weakest point is its conclusion, but the story that precedes it features truly unique supernatural concepts and effective scares. The Pierce duo has injected awesome new ideas into the underexplored witchcraft subgenre.