So, I’m perusing Facebook yesterday afternoon, as I often do when I’m trying to wind-down from a busy day at work and I came across an Entertainment Weekly article “How low-budget horror movie The Wretched became America’s No. 1 film” (Clark Collis May 24, 2020).
I’d never heard of it so after finishing the article I decided to look into this film, described as a “supernatural shocker”, definitely my type of flick! I’m happy to report that I’m extremely thankful I did! I’m going to do my best to provide an absolutely spoiler-free review as this film works best going into it completely fresh and uninformed.
The Wretched, directed by brothers Brett and Drew Pierce and recently released by IFC Distributing to VOD and drive-in movie theaters May 1st, 20202 (yes, you read that correctly: drive-in movie theaters!) is a film that revels in the best parts of 80’s, 90’s and a bit of 2000’s horror movie nostalgia, especially in it’s opening act. Think Fright Night with a skosh of Evil Dead thrown in, add a smidgen of The Lost Boys, a dash of Blair Witch and a pinch of Paranormal Activity. Mix that all up and you get some kind of idea of what to expect as you settle in to watch The Wretched!
After a rather disturbing, 80’s-set opening scene, followed by a decidedly odd-yet-strangely-pleasing and powerful opening credits song, Wicked Gonna Come by Blues Saraceno (thanks Michael!), the film introduces our main character, Ben, a rebellious teen played by the wonderful John-Paul Howard (Hell or High Water (2016), The Space Between Us (2017). Ben is en route to spend time with his father, Liam (Jamison Jones (General Hospital, True Detective (2015)), currently estranged from Ben’s mother, Nora (Runaways (2017), Amazing Extraordinary Friends (2007-10)).
Ben is struggling to come to terms with his parents leading separate lives, especially when he discovers dad is now dating Sara (Supergirl (2019-20), Jane the Virgin (2014-16). There’s also the little bit of an issue of a 1000 year old witch residing right next door!
What follows is an amazingly suspenseful and exciting battle between Ben, along with his friend, Mallory, played by the enjoyably quirky Piper Curda (Youth & Consequences (2018), I Didn’t Do It (2014-15)), and the witch aka The Wretched, as the teenagers struggle not only with their own belief but also trying to get the adults to believe them as well!
To say anymore would spill dangerously over into spoiler territory and, as I indicated earlier, you really should watch this film with as little information as possible to enjoy the experience fully!
As I watched The Wretched, I couldn’t help but notice that it shared several similarities with 1985’s Fright Night, not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, once I realized this, I enjoyed the film even more because I felt more in-tune with what the Pierce brothers were attempting. Much like when I watched Fright Night for the very first time, I found myself on the edge of my seat, rooting for the teens and getting very frustrated with the adults’ refusal to believe them!
The witch herself is one of the creepiest creations I’ve had the pleasure to watch in a long time and it further hammered home the 80’s horror movie nostalgia. Why? Because from what I could tell, almost (if not all) of the effects appeared to be practical, which is something you don’t see much of anymore but is almost always better than CGI. The effects, created by the masterful Erik Porn (G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, Pineapple Express, John Dies at the End) and his team, are some of THE best practical effects I’ve seen in a long time! The effects were SO good that I fully believed this witch was the meanest bitch since Angelica Huston’s Head Witch, Miss Ernst, in 1990’s The Witches!
However, all of the effects in the world would count for nothing if the actress under the make-up wasn’t capable. Have no fear. The actress portraying the witch in full on Wretched-mode is relatively-unknown actress, Madelynn Stuenkel. Ms. Stuenkel “trained at the Columbia College Chicago and Rose Bruford College of Theater & Performance with focus on movement performance, contemporary acting and Shakespeare” (IMDB). If Ms. Stuenkel continues on this path, I could very easily see her becoming the next Doug Jones…high praise, indeed!
The score for The Wretched was appropriate for the film in that it was excellent music for the incredibly tense moments that are prevalent throughout. The score was composed by Devin Burrows, known for Deadheads (2011) and various shorts. I look forward to hearing more of Mr. Burrows’ work in future films as I feel The Wretched will give him the notice he deserves!
If I had to pick just one thing about what I didn’t like about The Wretched I’d have to say it would be the very end, which left me scratching my head a little. However, that’s an extremely small criticism and could honestly be chalked up to the fact that I wasn’t smart enough to figure it out!
To wrap this up, I can’t stress enough how much you need to watch this film! It had everything that I look for in a horror film; great effects, the proper amount of suspense and intrigue, excellent acting, a masterful score and a powerful story! Oh, and did I forget to mention it’s unrated? I believe Brett and Drew Pierce have created a modern horror classic that can easily be put in the same category of all of those 80’s, 90’s and 2000’s classic horror films I mentioned earlier and I can’t WAIT to see what they come up with next!