The Strangers director Bryan Bertino is back with a film that oozes tension and dread, The Dark and the Wicked (In Theaters, On Digital and On Demand November 6 via RLJE Entertainment). Taking a pair of siblings dealing with the slow passing of their father and the deterioration of their mother, the film deals with loss and grief and how darkness strives on infecting those in pain. Featuring some impressive acting courtesy of Marin Ireland and Michael Abbott, Jr. as the two siblings, The Dark and the Wicked is a masterclass at building suspense and dread (review), until you find yourself staying up at night, filled with a sense of evil around you.
We thought we’d chat with Michael Abbott, Jr. about The Dark and the Wicked and the process of getting into such a bleak tale. Read on!
On a secluded farm, a man is slowly dying. Bedridden and fighting through his final breaths, his wife is slowly succumbing to overwhelming grief. To help their mother and say goodbye to their father, siblings Louise (Marin Ireland) and Michael (Michael Abbott Jr.) return to their family farm. It doesn’t take long for them to see that something’s wrong with mom, though—something more than her heavy sorrow. Gradually, as their own grief mounts, Louise and Michael begin suffering from a darkness similar to their mother’s, marked by waking nightmares and a growing sense that something evil is taking over their family.
WICKED HORROR: The Dark and the Wicked is such a good look at grief and the darkness that can come with the loss of a loved one, how it manifests in those hurting. What attracted you to take this one on?
MICHAEL ABBOTT JR: I’ve never gravitated towards the horror genre as a spectator for no other reason than that they scare the shit out of me. I’d also never been a part of a horror film as an actor. From the moment I read Bryan’s script I was instantly drawn to the story and the characters he had created. Louise and Michael were everyday people dealing with the pain of loss in a devastatingly real way. They weren’t caricatures being chased by a boogeyman with an ice pick and that’s what drew me in. The loneliness, the isolation, the abandonment—all of that mixed with a dash of religion to taste and you’ve got yourself a brain effer that leaves people numb with fear and questioning everything (with the lights on.) Those ingredients attracted me instantly.
WH: Your character is a family man trying to keep his own life together while also dealing with the declining health of a father, the tragic grieving of a mother and the estrangement of a sister. Was it easy to step into the role and such bleak parts of the story?
MICHAEL ABBOTT JR: It wasn’t easy to step into the boots of a character dealing with this amount of loss and hurt, but it was certainly alluring to dive in and dissect his psyche. I love a challenge. I’m an actor because I like to tell stories that make people feel…something…anything. This story definitely grabs the audience and forces their heart into a vise from the get-go. The stakes are very high for Michael. His relationship with his family has obviously been strained for a long time—but it’s still his family and the only family he knows. He’s loyal and willing to do whatever he has to in order to make sure everyone is attended to and all affairs are in order.
WH: Bryan Bertino is a master of suspense and such a great storyteller. What was it like working with him on this one?
MICHAEL ABBOTT JR: My friendship with Bryan is one of the things I’m most thankful for after making this film with him. He’s such a caring and sensitive guy, it’s impossible not to fall in love with him. We quickly discovered we had very similar upbringings and family dynamics growing up which gave us a deeply grounded place in which to communicate from. Bryan is certainly a master of the horror genre, but the way he has skillfully melded horror with psychological thriller in this film is pretty breathtaking to watch unfold. I’m excited for audiences to experience what goes on in Bryan’s brain.
WH: The tension in the film is scary as hell. When it comes to acting in films like The Dark and the Wicked, is it easy to take that horror and tension into your character or did you have to do any specific preparations to turn that ominous vibe on?
MICHAEL ABBOTT JR: We were lucky enough to shoot on the farm that Bryan grew up on in the middle of nowhere, Texas—a farm which ultimately becomes a character unto itself in the film. The crew did an incredible job of taking the elements (lights, set pieces, etc) that already existed here and expanding upon them in a way that felt very natural and un-Hollywood. When it got dark outside, it got DARK. The noises you hear in the middle of nowhere, Texas can’t be replicated. This ominous setting coupled with the complicated sibling relationship Marin Ireland and I had created with Bryan for ourselves—and then the devastation of what was happening around us….the elements of the tension and horror were there.
WH: What does the film mean to you, as a human being? It’s very much a film that can speak to people in very different ways.
MICHAEL ABBOTT, JR: That might be an understatement. I think audiences will respond a lot differently to this film than they would have pre-pandemic and I think every response will be justified. We’re all different/changed/evolved people now (whether we choose to admit it or not) having experienced what we’ve experienced over the last year. I have a feeling we’re going to take a lot less things for granted should we ever resume normality in our lives. If “family is all we have” then family is all we have to lose.