In the realm of the “intellectual horror” movie trend, many of which fail to impress, it was nice to see a well thought-out throwback movie that’s part coming of age tale and part supernatural horror with The Wretched on Netflix. And I’m not the only one who thinks so! The Wretched released to the streaming service on July 31st and is already in Netflix’s Top Ten movies with a 75% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Written and directed by the Pierce brothers, a duo to keep your eye on in the horror genre, The Wretched was released by IFC in 2019, and was actually number one at the box office for a few weeks (true, it was one of the few films playing because of Covid, but still).
The Wretched pulls no punches, beginning with a disturbing opening sequence that sets the pace and tone for the movie ahead. I for one, am a fan of this technique of beginning a horror movie with a good scare before settling in to the exposition.
The story focuses on Ben (John-Paul Howard) spending the summer at his dad’s (Jamison Jones) small lakefront town in the throws of teenage rebellion while dealing with his parents’ impending divorce. His dad runs or owns the local marina, where Ben meets his cohort and romantic interest Mallory (Piper Curda) who is charming and offers some good comedic levity throughout the movie.
The neighbors catch Ben’s attention (cavorting in the bedroom with the curtains open) and Ben quickly befriends their young son, Dillon – bonding over not being thrilled with their summer situations. On a hike with his mother Abbie (Zarah Mahler), Dillon notices something “wrong” in the woods – and it follows them home. Strange things start happening as this entity, a thousand year-old cannibalistic witch, possesses (or rather wears) Abbie and begins targeting the children of the town. Ben is the only one who sees the strange occurrences around him, but nobody believes him (very reminiscent of 2007’s Disturbia, watching the neighbors through binoculars in his bedroom) – even Mal doesn’t take him seriously.
One of my favorite little details of this movie is that Abbie is a modern mom, drinking beer, sporting tattoos, and wearing skull shirts. There’s a scene in the movie where Dillon tells his dad that “mom is acting weird” and his dad says “mom is always weird, you should have seen her at Burning Man”. More movies should have female matriarchs that are relatable to the current generation of young moms.
If you’re looking to be truly scared by a movie, The Wretched isn’t the one.
The Wretched‘s soundtrack by Devin Burrows adds suspense and ambience to the movie which refreshingly uses practical effects instead of CGI and makes great use of sound effects to amp up the horror. The film slowly unveils the witch instead of revealing their hand all at once. There is a sub plot with some local bullies that is unnecessary and should have been left on the cutting room floor, but that is a small gripe. The time dedicated to this subplot could have been better used to flush out the family drama between Ben and his dad or the budding relationship between Ben and Mallory.
Fans and aficionados of the horror genre will appreciate the suspense, creature effects, and new vision of what a witch is or can be, but they won’t be scared. While entertaining and engaging, The Wretched is not particularly scary – there isn’t a single jump scare, which while not always my favorite horror trick, would have helped this movie’s fear factor. Horror novices and those who find everything scary will be haunted by the witch and her actions, and I think it would be great fun to watch this with one of them.
With a run time of ninety minutes, this movie is worth a watch. It has a great antagonist who has no scruples about cannibalizing children, a protagonist worth rooting for, and a refreshing retro feel that is a nice break from the Hereditarys and Babadooks of the day. Check it out on Netflix, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. I wasn’t.
Are you easily scared or desensitized to horror movies? Let me know in the comments!