“She told us not to come…”
Bryan Bertino does not play nice. The acclaimed writer/director best known for 2008’s The Strangers is a horror impresario who doesn’t mind eschewing anything close to resembling a happy ending. He goes right for the jugular, and no matter how bleak they may be the filmmaker still crafts chillingly human stories of terror that feel lived-in and authentic.
His latest offering is The Dark and the Wicked, and it may just be Bertino’s best film yet. Not that this makes it particularly enjoyable, the descent into hellfire, damnation, depression and madness chilling to the bone. It is an unrelenting exercise in all-too-human horrors, especially right now, and as a result watching siblings Louise (Marin Ireland) and Michael (Michael Abbott Jr.) struggle as they attempt to deal with the father’s (Michael Zagst) sudden debilitating illness and their mother’s (Julie Oliver-Touchstone) corrosively contagious mental deterioration isn’t exactly easy.
But it is worthwhile. Bertino has crafted a superlative drama where tension slowly rises and the claustrophobic nature of the menace closing in on Louise and Michael is chilling to the bone. The filmmaker has crafted a nightmarish scenario that oftentimes feels all-too-real even with the satanically supernatural undertones always lurking just under the surface. There is no escape from what is happening on this secluded farm out in the middle of the dusty nameless nowhere, a feeling of lonely isolation enveloping me completely by the time events for the pair had run their course.
I’m hesitant to say too much more. Ireland and Abbott are both strong in the film, bringing their characters to life with subtle flair, allowing their mutual descent into questioning madness feel naturalistically genuine. The latter has a knockout scene late in the film at a gruesome kitchen dinner table, the look of unimaginable grief that crosses across his face followed by an eye-opening jolt of devastated understanding as he realizes much too late the truth of what has transpired gut-wrenching in the extreme.
Bertino maybe keeps things a bit too vague at times, the nature as to the hows and the whys of all that is happening more than a tad nondescript. As important as his appearance might be, Xander Berkeley’s brief scenes as a mysterious priest don’t add as much to the story as I think was the intent, and as good as he is I’m not altogether sure his character does much more than help augment the film’s already impressive ability to creep viewers out and send a never-ending series of shivers running up and down their spine.
No matter. For the right type of audience, The Dark and the Wicked is something special. For those willing to descend into Bertino’s debilitatingly bleak and dangerous world, this one is worthy of a look.
The Dark and the Wicked is presented on a 50GB Blu-ray MPEG-4 AVC Video with a 2.39:1 1080p transfer.
This Blu-ray features an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack and includes optional English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles.
The only extra is a Fantasia Q&A featurette featuring stars Marin Ireland and Michael Abbott, Jr. in a roughly 30-minute Zoom interview for this past year’s Fantasia Fest.
The Dark and the Wicked isn’t a piece of light and fluffy horror entertainment. There are no rainbows here, Bryan Bertino’s latest more than living up to its title as being both agonizingly dark and paralyzingly wicked. It’s an exceptional film, but keep that in mind before giving it a look.