The Dark and the Wicked follows an estranged brother and sister that return home to their parents' farmhouse to help their weary mother and their ailing father while he lays on his deathbed. After a terrible incident, it slowly becomes clear to the siblings that there is a sinister darkness lurking on the farm.
The Dark and the Wicked Review
Unfortunately for The Dark and the Wicked, it is about to suffer a critique fueled by the hype that preceded it...There is simply too much ammunition prepared by other reviewers that I can't help but comment on. From the hype, to the film it has been compared against, to Bertino's own work...I can't help but feel that this film was a mild disappointment. I desperately wanted to love it...I wanted to give it every chance to strike me with the fear that was promised by so many...but I emerged with discontent.
I fell into the trap again of believing the hype...Marked as a truly terrifying film by many reviewers, I was excited to watch this acclaimed film from Bryan Bertino (The Strangers, The Monster). I have many friends, myself included, that hold The Strangers in high regard with its haunting cinematography that utilized its wide shots to give us unique perspectives on the terror lurking in the shadows. I love The Monster as well, with its well-crafted blend of practical and CG effects on top of a story that melded the monster into a metaphor for alcoholism and the mother and daughter's broken bond. So of course I was looking forward to Bertino branching out into the more eerie of supernatural happenings.
But The Dark and the Wicked conceded to a couple of cheap scares through the first hour that actually had the opposite effect of impacting the audience, while they merely chopped into the solid construction of atmospheric momentum the rest of the film created. The entirety of the film felt like Bertino was trying to cash in on the successes of today's hot horror directors; with the foreboding and depressing atmosphere of Ari Aster and Robert Eggers works and the well-crafted scares of James Wan's films. But the final product felt like a cheap knockoff of both, with weak visuals inside the scares and bland, dry storytelling that felt less impactful on the psyche and the soul.
I saw one viewer refer to this movie as the "scariest film since Hereditary". To each their own, as our innate fears span a wide spectrum...but from my perspective, this film lacked the tenebrosity and atmosphere of Hereditary with a fraction of the effective horror elements. Hereditary was a masterpiece of horror with its gradual, fervent build to an absolutely horrifying climax of events. The bleakness of it is something I both admire and despise, which in itself gives it a lasting effect of respect from this viewer. Despite some effective progression, The Dark and the Wicked lacks that thick, detestable ether that made Hereditary hard to shake. It's depressing and dark, but it doesn't leave much of a mark.
The atmosphere overshadows the scares in every way. The visuals in the scares are bland and ineffectual, leaving much to be desired. The waning moments of the film make me feel like I just watched an Eggers-wannabe try to extend a five-minute short into a feature length film. The build, which had its moments of brilliance, reaches what appears to be a peak, but then...it just...ends. That isn't to say there isn't an ending, or a climax, it just lacks real execution of the conglomerated tension.
The story is well-constructed, if familiar. I saw it compared to Relic, but I felt The Dark and the Wicked lacked the perfectly-crafted nuance to its horror-driven metaphors that Relic executed so well. I felt the fear of dementia in Relic. The Dark and the Wicked was a mild form of haunting/possession at best that misses the mark more than it hits it when it comes to its symbolism for family, love and grief (though it does have some emotionally impactful moments here or there).
Believe it or not, the film isn't entirely devoid of good. I found the acting across the board to be a highlight. The writing certainly has its moments as we pass from readings on the dark entity's hold over the home to introspective conversations between the sister and brother. The demon's methods also breach less-trotted territories that I found refreshing, culminating in a scene towards the middle that I found far exceeded any in the climax.
I desperately want to jump on the bandwagon and reinforce the hype that this film has been getting. I'm a big fan of Bertino and I like the approach in style that was reminiscent of the big names we have in the genre right now. But sans the acting and writing and a handful of well-constructed and executed scenes, the film stumbles over itself primarily based on decisions made before anyone started filming. The end result is something I wanted more out of, that I thought could be so much more than just a few violent outbursts and some boring "creepy faces" hovering over a shoulder...and...you know...some of the worst, most pointless CG spiders this side of a C-class movie...And, spoiler alert...Black Phillip doesn't even show up.
This movie wasn't bad by any means. This review came together from pent up frustration based around where the bar was set for the film. I haven't lost faith in Bertino's skills as a director. I think he can build off of this and his other previous films. But this one just felt like a step to the side, rather than the massive leap forward most declared.
Horror Rating System
Horror Qualifier: 9/10
Horror Quality: 6/10 Film Quality: 7/10