Few things are quite as scary as the past. Maybe we don’t all have a dark past waiting to peak its head up at some inopportune moment. Yet in all likelihood, at the very least, everyone has a handful of embarrassing moments they’d rather forget. With his latest effort, They Wait in the Dark, veteran horror filmmaker Patrick Rea asks the question – can we escape our past? While Knock at the Cabin scares up money at the box, They Wait in the Dark quietly debuted on VOD this past Tuesday to a small amount of fanfare from a handful of critics.
On the run from her abusive ex, Amy brings her adopted son, Adrian, back to her childhood home to hide. But her ex Judith isn’t far behind and stop looking for them. And Amy’s old home hides a dark past that takes on a shockingly real haunting presence soon after their arrival. With two threats closing in on them, Amy learns that you can’t outrun your past.
They Wait in the Dark Slow Burns for a More Emotional Payoff
After a quietly unnerving opening scene, They Wait in the Dark settles into a slow-burn pace that may test some viewers’ patience. Writer and director Patrick Rea has quite a few movies under his belt. And he’s clearly patient telling the story he wants on his own terms. Much of the movie’s early going focuses on Amy, the relationship with her son, and her efforts to settle into a family home that hides some awful past. Only tiny hints are offered about this past for much of the runtime. Neither Amy’s violent ex, Judith, nor the supernatural elements of the thriller surface until at least a good 40 minutes into They Wait in the Dark. There’s a decent emotional payoff at the conclusion, but it requires some investment from audiences.
…there’s not much in the way of genuine scares. Still Rea drums up a bit of suspense, which mostly comes courtesy of the intense Judith.
In addition, there’s not much in the way of genuine scares. Still Rea drums up a bit of suspense, which mostly comes courtesy of the intense Judith. And the horror effects that do pop up are impressive given the micro-budget. Arguably, They Wait in the Dark excels when it’s subverting audience expectations. For nearly two-thirds of its runtime, Rea tells audiences a familiar story – a violent lover tracking down their ex. Any number of neo-noir thrillers have walked a similar road. When Rea inevitably pulls the rug out from under us, he does it so subtly initially that he forces you to pause and re-consider everything you’ve watched. No, this isn’t a Shyalaman-level twist but a restrained ‘pulling the curtains’ on the characters and their motivations.
They Wait in the Dark Rides Two Strong Performances and a Universal Fear
Given its more methodical pacing, They Wait In the Dark rests heavily on Sarah McGuire’s (The Stylist) performance as the damaged Amy. By necessity, with its final act reveal, McGuire delivers a reserved performance that gives away little of the nature of her character’s pain. There’s a subtle layering of hurt and resilience built into ‘Amy’ making it feel less like acting and more like watching a real person struggle on screen. Not everything about Rea’s subverting audience expectations work. What They Wait in the Dark reveals seems wholly incongruent with the character we’ve watched for an hour or so. Nevertheless, it’s a twist that works on a thematic level.
…They Wait In the Dark rests heavily on Sarah McGuire’s (The Stylist) performance as the damaged Amy.
As the thriller’s initial villain, Judith, Laurie Catherine Winkel perfectly encapsulates the neo-noir ‘baddie’, putting a gender-role reversal that works quite well. Though her performance requires less subtly than what we see from McGuire, Winkel gets a chance to add some layers to the character in the final act. If there’s a lack of jump scares, They Wait in the Dark cuts a little deeper with its exploration of how the past is inescapable. Like the best horror movies, it’s an idea that should touch on a common nerve. Whether it was intended or not, Rea raises questions about race and privilege though it’s a theme that feels a bit unexplored.
They Wait in the Dark Hits a Powerful Payoff for Patient Audiences
By its finale, there’s a lowkey payoff to They Wait in the Dark for fans of slow-burn horror. Veteran indie horror writer and director Rea carefully lets his story unfold to a satisfying – if not somewhat convenient – conclusion. All of the performances are excellent and increase the pathos of the characters’ fates. Moreover, Rea’s theme of the inevitability of our own pasts resonates, maybe even more than the scares themselves. On the other hand, it feels like there are other ideas undeveloped or open to the subjective interpretation. For some horror fans, the pace may be too methodical particularly in light of the lack of visceral scares.