THE DARK AND THE WICKED is the latest film from writer/director Bryan Bertino (The Strangers) which centers around two siblings who return home to say goodbye to their dying father only to confront an evil that has embedded itself within the family. The film stars Michael Abbott Jr. (The Death of Dick Long), Xander Berkeley (Candyman), and Marin Ireland (“Sneaky Pete”). THE DARK AND THE WICKED had its World Premiere at the 2020 Fantasia International Film Festival on Friday, August 28, 2020.
To best describe the plot, I’ll turn to the official Fantasia synopsis: “Ensconced deep in rural seclusion, there is a farm. On this farm, there is a house. In this house, there is an elderly man. This man is slowly dying. His adult children, Louise (Marin Ireland) and Michael (Michael Abbott Jr.), have both put their lives on hold and returned home to be with him in his most difficult hours. The house holds terrible energies. Palpably horrific. Louise and Michael both sense it. They initially try to ignore what their guts are screaming to them, but soon, waking nightmares make that an increasingly difficult thing to do. One freakish happening follows another. Something evil is taking over the household.”
THE DARK AND THE WICKED is a film that will seep into your soul. Upon my initial viewing I felt underwhelmed by the film, but once I allowed myself to fully digest it, it left me feeling surprisingly shaken. Like he did with his 2008 movie The Strangers, Bertino has crafted an unsettling slow-burn horror film; only this time he uses a supernatural backdrop, similar to his 2016 film The Monster, as a metaphor for grief and the questioning of faith.
From the moment the film starts, there is a heaviness. Drenched in muted brown colors, the family farm feels sad and forgotten. We are shown a vast landscape that is barely maintained as it is far too much for the couple to deal with at their age. Along with the land, they have a herd of sheep which is referenced quite frequently throughout the film. Depending on how you view the movie, these sheep could be a symbol of loyalty or even a false sense of comfort and stability. When Louise and Michael arrive to say goodbye to their father, it’s apparent that there is a lack of closeness among them. However, they are forced to work together after tragedy strikes and sets into motion the horrific events that are to unfold.
Unlike more advert religious-based horror films, THE DARK AND THE WICKED is much quieter. It relies on atmosphere and the overwhelming sense that something is terribly, terribly wrong. As the tone gets increasingly darker, Bertino crafts unnerving imagery deep within shadowy recesses that’ll have you questioning if what you saw was actually there. As startling and otherworldly as those moments seem, Bertino executes them in a way that feels grounded in reality, resulting in chilling scenes that will stay embedded in your brain long after the movie has ended. Add in a creepy priest who is experiencing his own unnerving journey (played by Xander Berkeley), a slew of silver crosses found on a body, and a horned creature hiding in the shadows, you got yourself the making of a hellish nightmare coming to life.
Leading the charge in this film are Michael Abbott Jr. and Marin Ireland, whose performances deserve all the praise. Their discomfort at being back on the farm, combined with both the impending death of their father as well as the supernatural elements play tragically across their faces. There is a natural flow between Abbott Jr. and Ireland which makes their brother/sister interaction feel genuine. Each carries their individual pain, grief, and fear in ways that taps into the traumatic element that the notion of death can bring.
Overall, THE DARK AND THE WICKED is a haunting tale that uses religion and the supernatural to dissect the painful process of grief and the unknown. Even though I have immense love for The Strangers, Bertino is at his best with THE DARK AND THE WICKED. Visually stunning and effectively sinister, THE DARK AND THE WICKED is a film best viewed at night, with the lights off and the sound up for maximum exposure to the horrors that will unfold.