Since his directorial debut, The Strangers, Bryan Bertino has worked sparsely in the genre. But his work has been generally impressive. In addition to directing the very underrated The Monster, Bertino has produced Stephanie, The Strangers: Prey at Night, and The Blackcoat’s Daughter. For his most recent effort behind the camera, Bertino collaborated with production company RLJE Films. Over the last several years, RLJE Films has developed a reputation for distributing hidden gems in indie horror. Mandy, Mayhem, VFW, and Satanic Panic are among just a few of the recent horror movies to enter our homes courtesy of the small film company. And by all accounts, Bertino and RLJE Films have a winner in The Dark and the Wicked. The trailer promises a haunting slow burn and critics have overwhelmingly embraced it.
Two siblings, Louise and Michael, come home to their isolated, rural farm home to see their dying father one last time. On their return, however, they find their mother behaving strangely, muttering about something evil coming for her husband. When tragedy strikes, Louise and Michael find themselves drawn into their mother’s haunted fantasies. As disturbing images increasingly haunt the siblings, they begin to question the reality surrounding them. Soon Louise and Michael realize that an unseen evil entity – one that has stalked their father – is now after them.
The Dark and the Wicked Finds Its Scares In The Unknown
Though it’s a slow burn, The Dark and the Wicked wastes little time in setting its stakes. This in part reflects the simplicity of its story. And that story – a malevolent entity haunts a family on an isolated farm. Take away the atmosphere and scares and there really isn’t much more to the movie. But sometimes the simplest concepts are the best. To his credit, Bertino – serving as writer and director – understands that the unknown is more terrifying than what we know. Anything the audience learns about this entity is through the eyes of Louise and Michael, which heightens the suspense even if we occasionally know what’s coming. With no lazy expository dialogue and undefined lurking terror, The Dark and the Wicked hooks you early and doesn’t let go.
And The Dark and the Wicked boasts some good jumps.
Above all else, The Dark and the Wicked is a genuinely scary movie. Bertino balances atmospheric dread with several impressive jolts. Anyone who has seen The Strangers knows that Bertino understands how to stretch the seemingly benign to maximize tension. Here, Bertino stages several moments where audiences will squirm knowing something is wrong. In some scenes, the payoff is a brilliant jump scare. And The Dark and the Wicked boasts some good jumps. Other scenes produce some brutally shocking violence that stands in stark contrast to the movie’s quiet tension. Everything eventually culminates in an abruptly bleak ending that is in keeping with what has proceeded it.
Nightmarish Images and Tragic Performances Bolster Strong Scares
In addition to Bertino’s steady handling of the scares, cinematographer Tristan Nyby perfectly captures the isolation of the film’s setting. Specifically, Nyby turns a simple farm into something out of a nightmare. Occasionally, The Dark and the Wicked recalls some of the better surrealist horror movies of the 1970s. In particular, one shot of the siblings’ dead mother floating into the air is sure to unnerve some viewers. The contrast between Nyby’s framing of the beautiful landscape with the unfolding horrors elevates the movie.
…cinematographer Tristan Nyby perfectly captures the isolation of the film’s setting. Specifically, Nyby turns a simple farm into something out of a nightmare.
With its bare narrative, Marin Ireland and Michael Abbott Jr, playing Louise and Michael, must sell the feeling of losing one’s grip in the face of unknown horrors. Neither actor has an expansive filmography but they’re both excellent here. Ireland conveys a sense of frantic panic that adds urgency to the characters’ situation. While The Dark and the Wicked tasks Abbott Jr with a more stoic role, he gets his opportunity to deliver the movie’s most gut-wrenching reveal. Rounding out the movie’s creepy tone, Tom Schraeder’s understated score compliments Bertino’s slow burn approach.
The Dark and the Wicked Brilliantly Bleak and Tense
In the absence of most of the highly anticipated major horror releases, the year 2020 saw indie horror step up. Bertino’s latest directorial effort illustrates that sometimes less is more. Simply put, The Dark and the Wicked offers bleak atmosphere and tense scares with what’s essentially a very simple plot. In the absence of big effects and bombastic editing, Bertino meticulously unravels the horrors in store for his characters. The end result is a horror movie that is both engrossing and unnerving. This is one of those movies that will have leaving a light turn once once the credit finish rolling.
THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: A