GORE IN THE STORE
THE DARK AND THE WICKED ****
Directed by Bryan Bertino. Starring Marin Ireland, Michael Abbot Jr, Julie-Oliver Touchstone.
Horror, US, 95 minutes, certificate 18.
Released in the UK on Blu-ray by Shudder July 5th
One would expect that after THE STRANGERS financial and critical success in 2008, writer and director Bryan Bertino would have made more of a name for himself. Since then, there have only been two little seen features (2014’s MOCKINGBIRD and THE MONSTER released in 2016) which seem to have already vanished into obscurity. With his fourth film Bertino returns to the basics; limited location, small cast, and delivers an uncompromising slice of rural American horror that proves its writer and director is far from a one hit wonder.
Louise and her brother Michael return to the Texan farm of their childhood to help their mother out with their seriously ill, bedridden father. It soon becomes apparent after a grisly incident that something seems to have taken a hold of the land around them. This evil presence begins to make itself known to both siblings in increasingly disturbing and violent ways threatening their sanity and lives of not just themselves but those around them.
Filmed on Bertino’s family farm THE DARK AND THE WICKED may be low in budget and limited in scope but it is high in ambition and atmosphere, succeeding in creating a claustrophobic and malignant tale that gets under the viewers skin within minutes. The story may be a familiar one to anyone who has watched PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, INSIDIOUS or any number of CONJURING films but what marks out THE DARK AND THE WICKED is its own quiet nature. This is a cruel film involving realistic people in an unreal situation, unable to comprehend the unforgiving evil force that has seemingly picked them at random to toy with. Its conclusion may be a foregone one but the road to it, and to see if it will go as far as it can is a hypnotic and scary one that tightens its grip tighter and tighter as it moves along at its own patient pace.
Despite its unrelenting nature the film provides a more honest look at grief and coming to terms with the approach of death that those other films mentioned refuse to deal with. The pressures and burdens of family and property are also referenced here to go along with the terrifying apparitions and demonic visitations. Captured through stark photography the situation is also handled nicely by the performers. As Louise, Marin Ireland perfectly portrays a figure dealing with this sustained supernatural attack without ever delving into hysterics and histrionics while Michael Abbot Jr as her brother struggles just as well with dealing with it in his own way and trying to keep his own family unit safe.
Full of disturbing imagery; a bloody mutilated goat wandering into a field and a scene involving chopping vegetables that goes too far and will no doubt have the viewer squirming, THE DARK AND THE WICKED may be a grim and often grisly watch but it somehow manages to avoid the pitfall of being an exercise in misery just for the sake of it. Premiering earlier this year on SHUDDER this physical release, that comes with the extra feature of a Q&A with Bertino, is the perfect excuse for non-subscribers of the streaming service to catch up with Bertino and see what he is capable of without studio interference and meddling. Hopefully we will not have to wait as long as we have before to see what his personal vision will bring forth next.