The horror genre is arguably the most diverse genre in Hollywood when you take into consideration of all the sub-genres that it offers. Slasher, zombies, paranormal, and psychological are all prime examples of sub-genres of horror movies, but one should never forget the sub-genre of horror known simply as the monster movie. It’s a simple and easy genre to gaze at on paper, but executed right, you can have something really special at hand. Now, trends come and go, but zombies, witches and even vampires, were once huge selling points for horror movies. They’re not as hot as they used to be, but, back in the day, they were something else. The Wretched is the latest attempt to tell a simple story about a young teenager, named Ben, whose next door neighbors are being possessed by a witch, and right from there, The Wretched succeeds in being compelling in its horror narrative and being surprisingly effective as a monster movie, harkening back to and old school style of storytelling.
Ben (John-Paul Howard) is your typical teenager. He’s not that sociable, quiet but deep down is a soft side that’s not as eager to pop up. While trying to balance out his personal life, things become a struggle for him both on a personal level and a mental level, with the separation of his parents and with a broken arm. Ben then gets sent to live with his dad to work at the local marina in order to gain some form of discipline. The town he starts to live in seems to be comforting at first, that is until he starts to deal with the privileged teens and his dad’s new girlfriend, Sarah. Things become increasingly more difficult when embarks on the people who have rented the house next door to him. A demonic and malevolent spirit from the woods has taken hold of both the parents, and starts to play a devilish game with Ben. When things escalate, Ben will stop at nothing until this reign of terror is over.
The Wretched is chilling and tense, and it executes the tension and atmosphere with efficiency and great timing. Most often, a lot of horror movies will feature unnecessary jump scares and cheap gimmicks. In the case of The Wretched, there are very few, which is very refreshing in a horror movie. The horror in The Wretched is so wonderfully executed. Normally, witch movies aren’t told like this, where the witch acts like a slasher killer or as just some animal that’s killing people left and right. Witch movies are more psychological and methodical, and the witch is normally pulling strings behind the curtains. The Wretched proves to be an inventive and refreshing attempt at keeping the idea of witches as more terrifying and as captivating as they have been in the past.
The witch in this movie is just as imposing and brutal as, say, the Predator was back in The Predator in 1987. What made this aspect stand out was how great the sound design was in this movie. Every snarl or growl or any other mannerism done by the witch felt almost like a beautiful reflection of any gesture that the Predator would give off in the Schwarzenegger flick. It’s something that might fly under the radar, but the use of the sound design in this movie made a more impactful experience on watching but it also made the horror more effective. A lot of that is thanks to writers and directors, Brett Pierce and Drew T. Pierce, who strike a perfect balance of telling something that’s somewhat contemporary, but exciting and original. Take the vibe of Goonies and The Predator, but instead of an alien, replace it with a witch, and you’ve got The Wretched.
The horror in The Wretched is clearly the meat of this movie, but as far as the substance goes, it manages to be a very effective story about a young man who’s trying to seek the love of both his parents and finding acceptance in his life. John-Paul Howard gives a great performance as Ben, one that depicts the struggles of coping with a looming parental divorce. Whether it’s the scenes where Ben’s arguing with his dad or trying to fit in at a party or talking to his friend Mallory (Piper Curda), each aspect of his character grows on you as you become more invested with him and his journey. It’s an understated and strong performance that might be overshadowed by all the chaos and horror that lies within this movie, but it provides a lot of nuance and subtly to the overall narrative. One thing the character of Ben is reminiscent of is the character of Kale Brecht from the underrated thriller Disturbia, played by Shia LaBeouf. Once Ben starts to be suspicious of his neighbors, he’s constantly starring at them from his bedroom, just to see what craziness might happen next. It’s an interesting comparison because The Wretched does borrow familiar aspects from other movies, but the most important aspect is that it makes of all the aspects its own, thereby making it feverishly entertaining.
The Wretched is wicked, scary, brutal, and outrageously entertaining. It flips the script on what a horror movie with a witch can be. The Pierce Brothers have created a really special film that offers the best kind of atmosphere for a horror film. It features familiar moments that we might come to expect from a horror movie, but its execution and didactic shift from being a straight up monster movie make The Wretched a real gem of a horror movie.
Available on VOD May 1st, 2020.
Final Score: 4.5 out of 5.