Somewhat below the radar, Bryan Bertino is quietly becoming a force to reckon with in horror. Best known for The Strangers, Bertino has a knack for unsettling his audience. As well regarded and widely seen as The Strangers is, his previous outing, The Monster, is arguably as effective, with a phenomenal performance from Zoe Kazan. Working on small budgets, he creates a vibe of terror that serves him well. This most recent effort, The Dark and the Wicked, is more of the same. Taking a different angle for the genre than usual, Bertino again crafts something deeply dark, brutally efficient, and largely bleak. It won’t be for everyone, but fans of fright flicks should dig it in a big way.
With The Dark and the Wicked, Bertino has brought a more demonic and supernatural bent to his horror talents. It’s a left turn for the filmmaker, but one that serves him well. This film is almost all about mood, invoking a few jump scares, but in particular, it’s about an unwavering sense of dread. If there’s one thing you’re left with when the credits roll, it’s a sense of evil. That may unsettle some, but it’s undoubtedly Bertino’s intent.
It’s interesting that Bertino has never quite gone in for any of the horror trends. The Strangers hit during the so-called “torture porn” trend, but it wasn’t a gore-fest. The Monster came out while “elevated horror” was all the rage, as an A24 release, no less, but it was decidedly a throwback creature feature, of sorts. In broad strokes, The Dark and the Wicked resembles other scary movies, but the devil is truly in the details here.
Set in a small town, on a nondescript yet secluded farm, a family patriarch is at death’s door. His adult children, Louise (Marin Ireland) and Michael (Michael Abbott Jr.), are summoned home by their mother (Julie Oliver-Touchstone). The siblings have moved away from home and have grown apart, from each other, but also their parents. This leads to tension, but also a clear sense that there was much love here. That won’t last for long, as an evil notion is growing within the farm. First taking form with waking nightmares, soon it’s presented in far more devastating manners.
With tragedies mounting, Louise and Michael deal with the notion that something evil is lurking in the home. Slowly, but surely, a demonic presence seems to be taking hold. Moreover, while a nurse (Lynn Andrews) is in the house to help with their father, they’re largely on their own. Hopelessly out of their element, is there anything that can be done?
Marin Ireland turns out to be quite the scream queen here, anchoring the film. Put through an emotional wringer, Ireland lets it all hang out, which is clutch. She’s largely our audience surrogate, so you need to identify with her. Michael Abbott Jr. is solid, too, but Bertino is clearly more interested in Ireland’s Louise. She gives a layered performance, crying out in terror when needed, but also being a forceful and complex woman throughout. It’s not quite Kazan in The Monster (which was an award worthy turn), but it’s strong work.
Bryan Bertino is undoubtedly a horror auteur. Work like The Monster and The Strangers established that, but The Dark and the Wick proves it even more so. The movie is arguably a little underwritten, choosing to have certain things just happen, but the tension makes up for it. Bertino’s direction is all about dread and upsetting images. By focusing on that, any narrative issues are papered over, leaving you with more of a feeling than a thought about the admittedly thin plot.
The Dark and the Wicked doesn’t bury the lede with its name, that’s for sure. Anyone squeamish or needing some hope in their horror will have some issues here. However, if you want a fright flick to be as dark as possible, this should be up your alley. Mostly, it’s another showcase for Bertino, who’s a filmmaker everyone should pay attention to.