They Wait in the Dark is the latest from Kansas City-based Patrick Rea. Rea’s past outings include Nailbiter (2013) and Arbor Demon (2016) in which he served as writer and director, as well as directing the 2020 werewolf revenge horror film I am Lisa. They Wait in the Dark features a cast of compelling characters including Amy played by Sarah McGuire(Below the Fold, The Stylist), Judith played by Laurie Catherine Winkel (MacGyver, Homicide Hunter), and newcomers Paige Maria and Patrick McGee playing the roles of Jenny and Adrian.
A few things strike you in the initial gripping minutes of They Wait in the Dark. The music and cinematography is of note and both work to very quickly establish the tone of the story. After opening on a shot of a woman dying on a bed, we soon cut to Amy and her son Adrian waking up in the back of a gas station. The closest thing to a safe location that was available to them during their escape. Rea’s writing does well to breadcrumb us along to the solutions and the early questions posed by the characters craft a tight mystery that propels the story forward without stagnation. Soon, we’re in a small diner where we meet Jenny, a small town waitress and longtime friend of Amy’s who’s eager to help out our main characters. This is where the directing of the film really begins to take over. As characters are introduced throughout the initial stages of the film, we gain just enough information to feed our curiosity while Rea keeps us on the hook through the very end. Each of these characters feels fully defined, with their own personal fears and motivations and the chemistry amongst all of the actors lifts each of the individual performances. I’d be remiss to exclude Chris Bylsma, Dan Daly, Chad Crenshaw, Tobi Omedehinde, and Meagan Flynn who each contribute notable performances that highlight the struggles of our main characters.
Perhaps the strongest single element of the film for me was the tone. Many character horrors fall into the trap of leaning way too heavily into the development of its characters, or disregard character entirely in favor of a revenge-fueled bloodbath. This film maintains a happy medium between these two worlds throughout the runtime of the film. There are a number of dark twists in this movie, but due to the authenticity of the characters and the slowly unraveling mystery surrounding them, each of these twists lands with significant emotional weight. Visually, these twists are heightened further by the incredible work done on the special effects makeup and the locations which feel just as real as the computer on which I am typing this sentence. Hollywood could not accurately capture a quintessential midwestern environment half as effectively as Rea does with this film; and, the fears centered in this film are representative of many of the fears that people living in the midwest face. The story lives somewhere at the intersection of child abuse, homophobia, racism, isolation, sexism, betrayal, and jealousy. It’s a story about trusting who you know, and knowing who you trust.
I would recommend They Wait in the Dark to anybody looking for a character-driven film that is strategic with its scares but doesn’t shy away from taking the premise to its logical extreme. This isn’t a film that will keep you awake at night for weeks, but it will make you think twice, thrice, and a fourth time before committing to a babysitter for the weekend. Standout performances from McGuire, Winkel and McGee are a treat to watch and the twists are as unpredictable as a Kansas weather report.
They Wait in the Dark will be making its virtual premiere on August 15th as part of Popcorn Frights Film Festival. For more details on the premiere, click here.