THE WRETCHED - A Witchy “Rear Window”

Using the “fish out of water” to introduce a movie going audience to a new setting and characters is easy to achieve. This is why it’s so commonly used in horror. Not only are the main characters out of their element, but this juxtaposition also illustrates just how strange, or dangerous their new surroundings are. We see this in flicks like; “Deliverance”, “Arachnophobia”, “The Conjuring”, “Amityville Horror”… Come to think of it, just about ANYTHING with a haunted house.

The new film “The Wretched”, from the brother filmmaking duo Brett and Drew Pierce (“Dead Heads”), dabbles in “fish out of water” as Ben (John-Paul Howard - “Snatchers”, “Hell or High Water”) arrives in northern Michigan to spend the summer with his father in a remote boating community where Ben’s father manages a dock and boating school. Ben has been getting in to trouble at school, and generally acting out since his parents separated, and this trip is to get him out of the city for a while and allow his father to talk some sense into him.

Ben works for his father at the dock by day and gets to know the local teens by night. Even developing a love interest with Mallory (Piper Curda), one of Ben’s new co-workers. Everything is fine, until Ben’s new neighbors start acting strange.

After returning home one evening, Ben is surprised to discover that Dillon, the neighbor boy and boating student, is inside his house hiding from his mother who Dillon claims, like a scene lifted right from “Invasion of the Bodysnatchers”, isn’t his mother. Soon his father comes looking for him, and Dillon returns home for the night.

The next morning Dillon doesn’t arrive at the dock for his boating lesson. Alarmed, Ben heads to Dillon’s home to check on him, where he is told by his father that they don’t have a son, and that he doesn't know what Ben is talking about.

Clearly there is something amiss and now it’s Ben’s undertaking to find out what happened to Dillon, and why his father is lying. His investigation begins with a cryptic etching he sees carved into the porch of his mysterious neighbors.

This symbol leads to information about witches, one of whom has been preying upon the children of the area for decades, or even centuries.

Ben shares his findings with Mallory, who thinks all this witch stuff is ridiculous but humors him never the less by playing along as Ben spies on his neighbors. Ben even goes as far as to break into their basement looking for Dillon.

Before long Den’s paranormal detective work attracts the attention of Dillon’s mother, who he is positive is the inhuman witch creature wearing the woman’s skin as a disguise to go undetected – subverting suspicion - as she moves through the community manipulating key figures with her witchy influence.

Ben is left to stop the witch and save Dillon and any other children alone. His story is so fantastic that no one believes him. This combined with Ben’s previous troubles reinforce even his own father’s disbelief.

There is a pretty good twist, that I won’t go into as not to spoil it. The twist really adds a ton of weight to the climax of the film and provides added urgency as Ben finally confronts the witch. Without this twist “The Wretched” would feel much more like any other similar film. The twist makes “The Wretched” a stand out.

The Pierce Brothers took their time early on developing the characters and the environment quite well – keeping me interested and making me really care about the characters. Thought this slower portion of the film, there are numerous subtle clues laying the groundwork for the danger of the witch and the eventual twist. Very well executed. I know the brothers have extensive television and film experience but few writing/directing credits, and I hope “The Wretched” leads to more opportunities for them.

Maybe it’s because of the adolescent viewpoint, but I couldn’t help but be reminded of “The Lost Boys” while watching this. In fact “The Wretched” feels like an amalgamation of elements borrowed from decades of horror cinema, sewn together into something unique. Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” and “The ‘Burbs”, combined with a little “The Lost Boys”, with the fishing/vacation town of “Jaws” as the backdrop. This makes “The Wretched” feel familiar but still new.

My only gripe about the film is the witch villain. She, or it, exists within the film to feast upon children – an element of old school witch folklore that is very underused in my opinion. She is more of a creature, and less of a traditional movie witch. There is very little actual witchcraft seen taking place in the film. It makes me feel like calling it a “witch” is a bit misleading, even though I do love the nods to it’s folklore origin.

Fun fact; “The Wretched” managed to be the #1 theatrical film in North America for five weeks in May 2020. Sure this was likely due to a minimal number of releases and countless theater closures due to the corona virus pandemic, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t deserve your attention. I don’t think an indie film has preformed that well since “Paranormal Activity”. I hope the Pierce Brothers can run with that.

“The Wretched” is a tense and creepy character centered supernatural thriller, and is available via BLU-RAY and VOD from the fine people at IFC Films. Check it out if you get a chance.


★ ★ ★ ½

"A defiant teenage boy, struggling with his parents' imminent divorce, faces off with a thousand year-old witch, who is living beneath the skin of and posing as the woman next door."