The Wretched Review: A well-crafted witch story perfect for any horror fan
The newest film written/directed by the Pierce Brothers, The Wretched, is a well-crafted witch story full of tantalizing scares, mostly strong story moments, and, sadly, some weak characterizations.
The film follows Ben (John-Paul Howard), a teen living with his dad and working at a harbor for the summer while his parents go through divorce proceedings. After an incident that made Ben untrustworthy and with a broken arm, there’s always a watchful eye on him as he tries to return to normalcy. However, when he begins to notice that there’s something strange that comes out at night and that’s connected to his neighbors. Eventually, Ben sees that something evil is going on next door and must uncover the truth behind the evil entity consuming those around him before its deadly ritual turns its attention on him and his family.
The scares and suspense built by the Pierce Brothers is actually very impressive as they heavily utilize the background to inject creepy imagery and build an effective amount of suspense and mystery. Through some great misdirection, the film is always surprising viewers with how its gruesome witch, referred to as The Wretch, is always lurking just out of frame in the darkness. There’re plenty of great shots of characters walking normally through the environment and then suddenly having The Wretch or whoever its possessing flash in the background for a quick second – sometimes so quick and subtlety that viewers won’t see it until the last second. It adds a nice amount of rewatchability and suspense, especially in the quieter moments of the film, and gives the film’s witch a large presence that matches all the great creepiness built around it.
The Wretch is probably one of the strongest aspects of The Wretched as the design and mythos surrounding it is really interesting. The look of it is perfect simple, creepy, and, well, wretched and every time even just part of it comes into frame, it creates goosebumps. There’re also some props that need to go to Madelynn Stuenkel as The Wretch and the different actresses that she possesses as they evoke some perfectly grotesque body horror with all of the bone-cracking and inhumane movement. The mythos that the Pierce Brothers implement in building around The Wretch is very strong and even while it’s not fully delved into and sometimes tough to figure out at times, there’re plenty of interesting aspects that create some very creepy moments. From her ability to get people, usually men, to do her bidding through whispering in their ear until it bleeds to how it makes people forget the children she takes, the film builds a mythos that’s fun to follow and watch unfold. Not to mention, the way it possesses and unpossesses people is pure body-horror at its finest and it’s perfectly grotesque.
The mythos also plays a strong role in creating a great horror story that’s constantly pulling the rug out from viewers in all the right ways. There’s a great mystery in what’s really going on with Ben’s neighbors that ultimately leads to some horrifying discoveries and legitimately suspenseful moments. As a viewer, you’re constantly unsure of what’s going to happen next and who to trust. There’re these burning questions that always stay top of mind and are answered in a very satisfying fashion as Ben figures things out. There’s also a great twist that plays into The Wretch’s ability to make people forget their loved ones that viewers will not see coming and is really well executed.
However, there’re some aspects of the story that don’t necessarily work or fall back on genre clichés. Some setups for scares and ritualistic horrors don’t land the punch that they’re expected to and even some of the character-building falls flat. Frankly, while Howard makes Ben a very charming, likeable, and fairly capable character, his intrigue and necessity to find out what’s happening just next door is kind of strange. In some ways, the film kind of reminded me of Disturbia with how Ben leers at his neighbors, but in Disturbia there was a reason built around it. In that film, the main protagonist was on house arrest and already had some suspicions about his neighbor, but here Ben comes off as a little strange with how he’s so fixated on what’s happening around him.
There’s also a troubled backstory of Ben’s involving drugs that is almost too subtle and could’ve been leaned into more to make him unique and add perspective to how other characters treat him. There’s this feeling of mistrust between Ben and his dad (Jamison Jones) that can be felt and when it’s passively mentioned about his drug issues, it doesn’t really have much impact. Other characters pretty much just fall into different genre tropes and while I even enjoyed the charm that Piper Curda brings to Mallory, a girl that Ben befriends, I couldn’t help but wish that she played a larger role than a love interest. There’s also a couple cliché horror scenes, like an internet research scene, that feel all too familiar and the ending, which is basically just a “The End?” kind of ending, that is totally unnecessary and leaves things on a bland note.
For the most part, The Wretched is kind of original horror movie I’d like to see more often and offers a rich amount of scares and skin-crawling body horror. There’s definitely some things that fall flat, like some story execution and characterizations, but the main cast’s charm and the effectiveness of the horrors The Pierce Brothers bring make the film perfect for any and all horror fans out there.