The Wretched follows a young man who struggles with his parents' imminent divorce and moving into a new home, only to find the mother/wife of the family next door has been possessed by a feral witch and is feasting on the people of the town.
The Wretched Review
To sum up The Wretched with a single analogy...Nosferatu is to Fright Night as The Witch is to The Wretched.
Where The Witch is this subversive horror tale that speaks with the authentic voice of 17th century Massachusetts, The Wretched takes the familiar "evil next door" Rear Window and throws a feral witch into the lead antagonist role. Where The Witch is drab, unsettling, and character/script-driven, The Wretched lures with visceral entertainment and a brisk, yet predictable pace. The Witch; a darkly fantastical period piece. The Wretched; Fright Night with a witch. So, which witch do you prefer?
The Wretched makes no boasts of being the horror film that beckons for accolades from critics and highbrow horror fans. It is a popcorn horror flick through-and-through, providing shocks and scares through a well-paced story with no delusions of being more than what it is. The Witch is a masterpiece of the new brand of horror pioneered by director Robert Eggers and fellow director Ari Aster (Hereditary, Midsommar). The Wretched is not that. It's a fun horror romp with little below the surface. And it embraces this fact much to the enjoyment of the audience.
Though it fits the mold of the Rear Window/Fright Night model to a predictable degree, there is more than enough to latch onto. The concept and design of the witch is a nice change of pace and unique in its own right despite the formulaic plot structure that surrounds it.
The relatively successful execution of the feral beast approach to witch lore is enough to spark and then fan the flames of interest throughout the runtime. It is by far the most interesting aspect of the film, using abhorrent behavior, succubus-like methods, and a grotesquely brilliant initial reveal to visually convey a fresh take on the dated broomstick and cauldron cliches of Halloween. This witch has grown accustomed to vicious methods by which to cheat aging, and they don't involve "tail of newt", but rather human flesh. It's sometimes disgusting, but engagingly fresh.
The ending leaves a little to be desired. It amps up to a reasonably-enough tense finale following a twist of sorts, but the setting in which our showdown takes place often feels tacky, like a rework of the pit from Army of Darkness, so much so that I half-expect a deadite to emerge from the muck rather than the witch. It feels far more artificial than the organic monster that's been forming for an hour, plateauing into a Goosebumps TV show-like climax, rather than a gritty, hard-R monster movie.
The Wretched comes innate with the flaws of films of its ilk, but it never apologizes for them, choosing to instead focus on the strengths of its approach. It doesn't inevitably satisfy as much as I would have liked, but the fresh take on the witch mythos was enough for me to consider the film a success. The film doesn't quite properly balance its unique lore with a predictable plot, nor its well-constructed incline with a sharp peak, but it does enough to be a fun time I'd recommend.