The Dark and the Wicked is one of those films that has stuck with me long since I saw it for the first time back in August. I liked it in my first viewing, but it didn’t take long after my initial review for a multitude of the film’s haunting images and sequences to invasively permeate my thoughts at any given time. Thanks to deft direction from The Strangers filmmaker Bryan Bertino, and a truly core-shaking performance from Marin Ireland, this is a brutally unforgiving film not for the faint of heart. Just in time for the holidays with family, RLJE Films and Shudder bring The Dark and the Wicked home on Blu-ray.
Returning home to her rural family home to visit her dying father, Louise (Marin Ireland) soon begins to find the energy of her childhood home now tainted with the heavy stench of death. When her mother (Julie Oliver-Touchstone) begins to display strange and self-destructive tendencies after the entire family returns home, this sets off a chain of terrifying events that push the bounds of human suffering.
Going into The Dark and the Wicked a second time, the sense of dread that comes into such brutal fruition in the final act is present from the very start now that you know what to look for. It gives me a much greater appreciation for the constrictive and bleak world that Bertino has built in this small farmhouse. This is an absolutely brutal film with nary a second to breathe in between the acts of unforgiving cruelty the characters on screen go through.
The visual style of The Dark and the Wicked, while fittingly putrid, doesn’t lend itself to the Blu-ray format spectacularly, to no real fault of RLJE Films’s HD transfer of the film. This film is simply not much of a looker to begin with, nor does it ever try to be. With the visual energy of something akin to a Debra Granik film like Winter’s Bone, the depth and brevity of the film’s visual style comes in how truly bleak and unforgiving it is. Blacks are washed out, there is a limited neutral color palette, and even blood drips in a dark, almost brown-tinted tone. There’s not much visually to speak for on Blu-ray, but ugliness is the name of the game here, so it’s difficult to say that the transfer itself is bad, this is just not a film you get for its look.
However, the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is much more successful. I initially saw The Dark and the Wicked on a press screener that had stereo audio and inconsistent encoding, so to be able to hear the film’s entire soundstage in all of its glory made quite the difference. There is a bevy of atmospheric effects that open up the film’s world to something far more tense and frightening than just listening through your computer speakers. There is a real sense of immersion and clarity in the film’s audio that, while not ostentatious by any means (they will not be using this as a home theater demo at Best Buy), provides a clear and notable upgrade from streaming.
However, with only one special feature included (Fantasia Fest Q&A with Marin Ireland and Michael Abbott Jr.) that can be found on YouTube, and an upcoming release on Shudder in the new year, I can’t say there’s much reason to actively seek out The Dark and the Wicked on Blu-ray unless you are a fervent collector of physical media, or don’t have a subscription to Shudder (which, if you are interested in this kind of film, you probably should have one). While the audio mix is engrossing, it’s not nearly enough to justify a release with such little supplemental material and lackluster video.
It also doesn’t help that most people who are not complete masochists like myself probably won’t find themselves ever wanting to actually return to this little demon of a film again after watching it once. Proceed with caution.
The Dark and the Wicked Blu-ray Special Features
- Fantasia Q&A with Marin Ireland and Michael Abbott Jr.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD on December 15th, 2020.
Streaming exclusively on Shudder in 2021.