When Bryan Bertino hit audience with one of the most impressive debuts in 2008’s The Strangers, the director was immediately met with labels of being the next big name in the genre and rightfully so, that film is still one that terrifies so many horror fans year after year. Following The Strangers,, Bertino eventually helmed 2014’s Mockingbird and the expectations that came with coming right out of the gate with a masterpiece did nothing to help the found footage-esque follow up that Mockingbird was. After dusting the experience of a sophomore slump off and directing the exceptional 2016 creature film The Monster, Bertino looked to be on a trajectory of being one to look out for again, and Wicked Horror readers, I am pleased as hell to say, that with his fourth film, The Dark and the Wicked, Bertino and back and better than ever, giving genre fans one of the most unsettling films of the year, while also scaring the living hell out of us.
When siblings Louise and Michael (Marin Ireland and Michael Abbott, Jr. ) return to their farm, secluded from people and others, the duo are tasked with caring for not only their dying father, but the mentally unstable mother (an excellent Julie Oliver-Touchstone)who is taking the declining health of her husband very rough. Initially the siblings assume that it’s just the pain of their father slowly dying that is affecting their mother, but following a tragedy early in the film, what’s we’re given is a darkness, an evil that seems to take ownership of the farm and the family inhabiting it. More than any monster or person, the darkness and evil found in The Dark and the Wicked is one that any individual who has struggled with grief, loss and depression can recognize. It’s a darkness that takes control of you, causes you to harm yourself and causes you to be eclipsed and overwhelmed by the pain found within in.
That’s what makes The Dark and the Wicked so enthrallingly scary, we’re never quite given an antagonist that we see per se (a sinister role by Xander Berkeley makes us assume we do, but alas, no spoilers here), but one we can all FEEL. It’s impossible not to be emotionally affected by the darkness found in Bertino’s film, it’s almost as you’re watching depression overtake characters in front of you, in ways that seems very metaphorical but tangible at the same exact time.
There’s precision in the way Bertino executes the scares in the film, quiet tension building, akin to what made The Strangers so terrifying, it got under your skin before a single thing went down and that’s on full display with THE DARK AND WICKED, it’s a masterclass in suspense, something that Bertino still can execute better than most. As we see the pain and grief and darkness overtake various characters and they’re met with violence by their own hands, it feels so close to home for anyone who has ever dealt with looking in the mirror and not recognizing yourself. It feels personal, this film and one that could easily be a look at what it is like to be in the head of a mentally ill individual.
Betino’s knack for creating tension and terrifying ambience is enough to blow the viewer away, but the performances by Ireland and Abbott, Jr. really add so much to the film, there is such nuance in the way they play the pain and hopelessness at times and it’s incredibly easy to latch onto the duo, you hurt FOR them and WITH them, as you watch the darkness slowly take each one over.
While it is not the masked home invasion classic that The Strangers, was, Bertino has created what is, in this writer’s opinion, a true classic in the making with THE DARK AND THE WICKED. A dark as the abyss look at pain, suffering and how losing someone you truly love can sometimes be a darkness you learn to deal with. Excellent stuff.
Wicked Rating: 10/10