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The Dark And The Wicked (2020), Bryan Bertino, (Horror Movie Review)

The Dark And The Wicked (2020), Bryan Bertino, (Horror Movie Review)
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PLOT: Two siblings come home to their secluded childhood farm to check in on their mom and dying father. Not long after, it becomes clear that an evil presence is growing stronger, and that sh*t is about to hit the fan.

LOWDOWN: Every once in a great while, I get to experience a genuinely unsettling film. Nothing scares me (at this age, anyhow), and the closest thing to fear would be losing my health insurance or blowing a tire on the expressway. Not that I haven't seen anything that creeped my out recently. THE BABADOOK and HEREDITARY are a couple of movies that got a tad under my skin, which is something that happens less and less. Gone are the days of my youth when a good horror movie would affect me for days. I've just seen too much and I'm just too cynical to lose myself like I used to. That being said, Bryan Bertino's THE DARK AND THE WICKED (WATCH IT HERE) cut me deep. It's a bleak and unrelenting trip that will leave you shaken by the end.

Set in a rural farm in Texas, Siblings Louise (Marin Ireland) and Michael (Michael Abbott Jr.) come back home to look after their mother, who herself is caring for her dying husband. Something is clearly off as the mood and feel in the home hint at deeper trouble. Though a slow burn at first, there's an aura that keeps even a simple task of washing dishes wrapped up in tension. Louise and Michael don't think much is off, just the depression and anxiety that comes with a loved one's slow death. They aren't close to their parents and can't see the danger they're in. The dying father in the other room is what this flick is about - regretting decisions of the past, moving away, and losing contact. Michael and Louise aren't close either, and this sadness permeates every look and action between them. This is a profoundly unsettling film that deals with regret and isolation skewed through the paranormal. The horror comes not only from an evil entity but the frayed relationships. The best horror is rooted in human sorrow, and THE DARK AND THE WICKED is no different.

Hats off to writer/director Bryan Bertino's use of framing and sound. Even when nothing threatening is happening, things flow in a way that you can always sense the impending danger, like water pressure building or my bladder six drinks in; things will eventually burst. THE DARK AND THE WICKED doesn't need to feed you kills and monsters for it to work and relishes in its mood over anything else. The rural setting is perfect because it doesn't rely on the typical red-neck tropes but uses the vast and empty land to show how alone everyone is. Not only emotionally but physically. There is no help if needed, and whatever happens, can't be avoided. The Dark and the Wicked will do for the rural American Southwest what THE STRANGERS did for home invasions and uses geography to shape the story by making it a character itself.

Things build and build as Louise starts having nightmares and seeing spooky things that aren't there. Marin Ireland gives a career-best, not only pulling off one of the most convincing southern accents but does a lot of heavy lifting with little dialogue. Michael Abbott Jr. does great as Louise's emotionally cut off brother. The one who moved on, and never looked back. There's a bit of resentment and bickering as their childhood home situation is worse than they realized. And all of this before they know that there's an evil presence growing with no safe way out. We get a small cameo by Xander Berkeley, who's terrifying as the soft-spoken southern Preist. I'd argue he steals the show and receives an honorary placement next to Reverend Kane from POLTERGEIST. There is a scene where he's outside the house in the middle of the night, calling out and inviting Michael and Louise to step out and join him... f*ck me! It's so creepy it's actually beautiful.

GORE: We got some CGI bloody, but this is far more concerned with atmosphere and dread.

BOTTOM LINE: THE DARK AND THE WICKED patiently turns up the heat until things come to a boil. Like horror at its best, this uses real-life tragedy to draw inspiration from and ground things (slightly) in a way where the evil presence isn't the only misfortune on this rural farm. Is there anything that doesn't work? Not really. Some CGI enhancements could have used another polish but nothing too distracting. THE DARK AND THE WICKED fires on all cylinders with its supernatural take on the family unit's decay, which may be Bryan Bertino's magnum opus. I highly recommend you pour a drink, turn off the lights, and put this on. Trust me.

 RLJE Films will release the horror film THE DARK AND THE WICKED In Theaters, On Digital, and On Demand on November 6, 2020.

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