Review by Sean Boelman
Most horror flicks that attempt to be an exercise in style-over-substance end up falling short, but that is not the case with Brian Bertino’s newest film The Dark and the Wicked. While it does leave a bit to be desired in a narrative sense, it contains some truly horrific imagery that could very well haunt viewers’ nightmares.
The movie follows a family who finds themselves tormented by an evil force as they mourn their dying father. In terms of the plot, it’s a very simple film that is really little more than a good old haunted house story. But the dark imagination which Bertino brings to these supernatural tropes creates a truly terrifying result.
If the movie does suffer from one thing, it is a lack of subtlety. In films that don’t have a strong plot, one expects there at least to be some thought-provoking content to draw things together. And while Bertino’s script does explore some ideas about grief and guilt, it’s often far too direct to be particularly profound.
That said, these themes do provide a necessary foundation for the characterization. It’s easy to get wrapped up in this family’s woes as their world is torn apart by supernatural and psychological powers. Although the family dynamic definitely could have been more prominent, the anxieties of each of the characters on an individual level are clearly sympathetic.
Marin Ireland gives an excellent performance in her leading role. In the past, she’s proven herself to be a really valuable supporting player, but it is evident from this that she has the ability to carry a movie. The rest of the cast is good too, but more often than not, this is Ireland’s show, and she earns that spotlight.
Viewers familiar with the genre will definitely be caught off-guard by the film’s aggressive pacing. This isn’t some slow burn psychological horror. The moments of brutality are short but intense, and there is this mounting anxiety of trying to figure out what is going to come next. Bertino doesn’t leave room for the audience to breathe, much less relax.
This movie wouldn’t be what it is without its disturbing imagery. And while Bertino is essentially using gore as a crutch, it’s so gnarly that it will elicit a guttural reaction. This is the type of film that, if it were to play to a full crowd, it wouldn’t be surprising to hear screams and gasps throughout… but it will be just as creepy at home alone.
Bryan Bertino’s The Dark and the Wicked is definitely flawed, but for those looking for a well-made and suspenseful horror flick, this is exactly what will satisfy that itch. It’s not often that a movie comes along that is this legitimately scary.
The Dark and the Wicked screened as a part of the virtual edition of the 2020 Fantasia Film Festival, which runs August 20-September 2. An encore screening (geoblocked to Canada) occurs on August 26 at 5pm.