The Dark and the Wicked Review: The scariest and most visceral horror film of the year
The latest horror feature from writer/director Bryan Bertino, the man behind modern horror masterpiece The Strangers, is a perfect showcasing of his talents for creating dark and brooding horror.
The film, The Dark and the Wicked, follows siblings Louise (Marin Ireland) and Michael (Michael Abbott Jr.) as they head to their family’s secluded farm in Texas to aide their mother (Julie Oliver-Touchstone) as their father (Michael Zagst) is slowly dying. Upon arriving, they notice that something seems off as there is this dark presence that seems to be haunting their mother and leave her on edge. After a terrible tragedy occurs that rocks Louise and Michael to their core, they begin to feel the dark presence start to stalk them and make them see horrifying visions. As they begin to question what’s real and what’s not, the two must figure how stop this evil presence and escape the waking nightmare they find themselves in.
The Dark and the Wicked instantly evokes vibes of The Strangers with how Bertino sets up the film’s Texas farm environment. The farm legitimately feels like it’s in the middle of nowhere with there being so few characters within the film and no sense of civilization in sight. Nothing compares to when the sun sets and night falls as the lack of light creates nearly pitch-black environments that are nerve-racking to be in. The use of natural light not only adds to the film’s dark and brooding tone, but constantly puts you on edge with how Bertino hides some of the film’s creepiest horrors in the shadows. One of the big things that made The Strangers scary was how Bertino utilized the background to have evil lingering in the shadows and creating moments with the camera that always make it feel like the characters are being watched by outside presence.
Rather than deliver slow-burning scares and suspense like in The Strangers, Bertino instead utilizes perfect timing and pacing to deliver effective jolt and tear your nerves to shreds. The jump scares in this film never feel cheap or obvious as Bertino and they honestly don’t feel like traditional jump scares. Instead, the film delivers well-executed jolt that are made incredibly effective in making viewers constantly nervous and shaking with suspense. From creating suspenseful moments that start with sound cues and then are dragged out to leave viewers on edge for as long as possible to making seemingly safe moments suddenly unsafe, Bertino just seems to know how to catch you off guard. The bloody, horrific visuals make everything even more unsettling and create a horror experience that truly lives up to the film’s title.
In short, the film is full of satanic nightmares as it becomes clear that the film’s main antagonist is Satan himself. Although it seems kind of obscure as to what kind of evil is haunting this house and family, it becomes clear quick that they’ve become Satan’s favorite to torture and it’s pretty horrifying. Honestly, even though Satan never really takes his true form, the forms he does take are absolutely horrifying and I don’t know if I’ve ever seen him be so damn cruel. Anytime, as a viewer, that you just want Louise or Michael to run from the farm in order to escape the Devil’s grasp, there’s this small but majorly impactful impasse that they have that keeps them there. With their father slowly dying and their mother unable to be there with him until the end, they are stuck in a dilemma to escape the evil that slowly tightens its grip on them, but leave their father to die alone. It’s an amazingly impactful choice that’s not only perfectly fitting for Satan, but also a personal horror that allows viewers to grow close to Louise’s deep sense of grief. Also, it’s worth giving a nod to Ireland and Abbott Jr.’s stellar performances as they effectively showcase their respective characters varying views and reactions as they are both slowly being emotionally drained as each day of haunts passes.
If that wasn’t cruel enough, the film ramps up Satan’s demented and twisted sense of fun with some horrifying visuals and cruel tricks with devastating consequences. Where The Strangers delved into more realistic fears that were maintained in its more simplistic and realistic premise, The Dark and the Wicked treads in more supernatural territory – meaning that Bertino has a lot of creative ground to play around in. While the more blood-soaked, and gruesome kills and unrelenting darkness will be too much for some, it something that makes the film’s horrors so ingrained in you mind after watching. From the gory deaths and horrifying visions that terrorize everyone in the film to the slow destructive nature of both body and mind that makes escaping seem impossible, the film really portrays Satan as one cruel bastard. Even Michael’s cruel fate is something that viewers will never forget as it’s truly an embodiment of how this film goes to some incredibly dark and unforgiving places.
With The Dark and the Wicked, Bertino not only proves himself to be a modern horror master, but also delivers the best horror experience of the year. It’s such a perfectly executed film filled with horrifying jolts, incredibly cruel moments of darkness that stick with you, and visceral moments that will legitimately leave you shook.