Paranoia and fear are some of the biggest concepts in the horror genre. The thought that you—or the world around you—are slowly losing grip on reality is one of the most primal and terrifying fears.
This is why movies that prey on these fears work so well for me personally. The thought of a supernatural creature infesting my world is one that has terrified me since I was young. The latest film from directing and writing duo Brett Pierce and Drew Pierce, The Wretched, strikes the perfect tone between paranoia, fear, and good old fashioned supernatural creatures.
Set in a small lakeside town on the east coast, 17-year-old Ben (John-Paul Howard) takes some time to visit his dad over the summer as his parents deal with an impending divorce. As he adjusts to life in a small town, he becomes aware of an evil force that has infected his neighbours. As the creature that appears to be wearing their skin starts taking the children of the town, he tries to put a stop to it. When more of the town goes missing, and no one believes him about the potential threat, he takes matters into his own hands.
Using the setting and concepts well, The Wretched is a serious contemporary take on classic folklore. As the film unfolds, the lore and concepts of the witch are slowly laid bare, although never too much to lose the sense of mystery and dread that keeps the tension and suspense ramped up throughout the runtime.
While not as brutal as the trailer suggests, The Wretched works well at portraying its characters and setting in a way that builds a steady sense of dread, while still making it feel like the brutally violent teen movies we all grew up with. The Pierces’ writing and directing have built a believable world setting and a creature that will send shivers down the spines of many viewers.
The effects on display in The Wretched are spot on, reminiscent of Evil Dead or even The Thing at times. Shots of bodies being discarded like old clothing are both disturbing and captivating. It is great to see a teen-horror film avoid the easy CGI blood and gore and stick to the age-old style of practical effects to get the blood flowing.
The creature is always left just out of reach. We get a glimpse of its power, and what it wants to do with the kids of the town, but never the true scope of how long it has been there or what it is capable of. Much like Pennywise in It, this witch represents an ancient evil, one that we can never hope to understand or truly overcome.
The Wretched wears its influences on its sleeve, from Rear Window to Fright Night the concept of menace resting just next door is ever-present and still just as visceral to the viewer. Yet even with all the inspiration, this film manages to feel fresh and fun, pushing aside many of the easy conventions and going in some dark, and at times disturbing, directions.
This achievement is thanks in part to the solid cast lending their talents to this film. With Piper Curda (I Didn’t Do It), Jamison Jones (True Detective), Azie Tesfai (Supergirl), Kevin Bigley (Netflix's Upload) and Zarah Mahler (Nightmare Cinema) all on display and in fine form, The Wretched is a fun watch from beginning to end.
As with any teen-focused horror film, it does fall prey to a few stale concepts. From the first party in town experience to the rich bullies, The Wretched has its fair share of standard horror tropes, but thankfully, even with these aspects it never gets too bogged down in the weeds or forgets its purpose. The 95-minute runtime never drags, and what downtime is present works to build the characters and set the tone.
The Wretched is a great outing in terror and paranoia. With the genre already filled with iconic classics, it is great to see a new directing and writing team bring fresh concepts to the table. This is a new age folktale filled with blood, terror, and practical effects. If you enjoyed Evil Dead or are a sucker for a good witch story, don’t miss The Wretched.