“Like a dread-filled nightmare that you can’t wake up from.”
Writer/director Bryan Bertino knows how to make a low-key nerve-shredding horror movie having left quite the impression with his debut, The Strangers. The Liv Tyler/Scott Speedman home invasion thriller was jam-packed with highly effective back to basics horror. A trio of masked Strangers knocks on the door in the dead of night with the sole intention of killing you because you were home. Few things chill the blood and quicken the heart more effectively than a simple concept that’s well-executed.
For Bryan Bertino’s fourth feature, The Dark and the Wicked, he serves up another tale of isolated terror. Set on a small family farm, two estranged siblings, Louise and Michael (Marin Ireland and Michael Abbott Jr.), return to their childhood home to see their now bedridden father. Despite warnings from their mother to stay away, the two distant siblings attempt to reconcile with their parents. However, as time passes, it soon becomes clear that another presence is residing in the farmhouse, and it’s not just the unpleasant childhood memories.
From its early uncomfortable reunion, Bertino sets the grim tone straight off the bat; this modern family is not a family that enjoys being around one another. Wasting little time before the terror starts, The Dark and the Wicked takes the Jaws approach by building the tension before things get bleak, and things do get increasingly bleak. In many ways, The Dark and the Wicked is a companion film to The Strangers; we see a fractured family unit coming to terms with their grief, the acceptance of a broken relationship, and all of this against the backdrop of their home being invaded by something that means them harm. Here, we have a physical manifestation of a family’s grief, their broken promises, and their pain.
The Dark and the Wicked doesn’t pull any punches, trading in the atmosphere as much as jolts; the slow-burn story as the days blur into each other will be eerily familiar to many of us. After a year and a half of living in a pandemic, lockdowns, and isolation, the story has become increasingly relevant regardless of its supernatural setting. Aided by strong performances from its cast, The Dark and the Wicked is easily one of the best horrors of the year so far. Essentially, Bertino has made a film that feels like a dread-filled nightmare that you can’t wake up from.
★ ★ ★ ★
The Dark and the Wicked is out now on DVD and Blu-ray