FILM REVIEW: THE WRETCHED (FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL)
As THE FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL reaches the midway point, there’s still a number of hotly anticipated titles just around the corner. This past weekend brought us the world premiere of one of our top 5 most anticipated films of the fest in the form of THE WRETCHED. THE WRETCHED was a pleasantly creepy surprise, and a perfect example of how low-budget doesn’t necessarily mean low-quality.
THE WRETCHED starts off with a bang, and it lets you know what kind of film it is right out of the gate. The film opens with a flashback starting 35 years ago. A babysitter is speaking to her mother on the phone from the inside of a creepy old house. She hears a noise and foolishly hangs up with her mom to go investigate. This young lady must not be a student of horror films like us, because you NEVER investigate the creepy noises in the creepy house all alone! As she slowly enters the basement we can hear a crunching sound as if something is eating something…crunchy. A slow reveal shows us the back of a withered demonic-looking creature chowing down on the kid in the babysitters charge. Yes folks, it’s a “kill the kid in the first 5 minutes” kinda feature! Love it or hate it, you have to respect the audacity of that opening scene. It’s always refreshing when someone just goes for it hard from the starting bell.
Fast forward 35 years and a teen named Ben (John-Paul Howard) is sent to live with his dad Liam (Jamison Jones) for the summer. Ben isn’t thrilled about spending time with his dad, or working at the marina that his dad runs either. It isn’t all bad for Ben, because he meets Mallory (Piper Curda) almost right away. She’s sarcastic and snarky, and a perfect counterpoint to Ben’s straight laced and rigid personality. It’s a set-up as old as time for a fun teen summer comedy, but there’s a whole lot of witchy horror violence in store for our little teens.
Ben’s home life is boring and aggravating, since Ben and his dad appear to be at odds over dad’s new girlfriend Sara (Azie Tesfai). Ben takes an interest in his new neighbors since he’s so bored at home. The neighbors are a young couple named Ty (Kevin Bigley) and Abbie (Zarah Mahler), with a young son named Dillon (Blane Crockarell). This interest becomes an obsession as Ben starts to notice some strange behavior from Abbie in particular. You see, one day while exploring the woods around the house, Abbie and Dillon unknowingly disturb an ancient evil living in the base of a tree. We don’t see much of the creature, but just enough to let us know that it’s not something you’d like to be face to face with! This thing sets its sights on inhabiting Abbie, since we know from the beginning that it has an insatiable appetite for children.
As Ben tries to navigate his new social surroundings, he can’t help but notice increasingly bizarre behavior from Abbie. Everything from late night ventures into the woods, to showing up and eerily staring into the windows of Ben’s house all night long. Ben makes a deal with Dillon that the boy will let Ben know if anything else weird happens. It isn’t until Dillon vanishes with no one having a recollection of the boy, that Ben realizes he is dealing with something supernatural and way beyond anything he’s ever faced in his life. He recruits Mallory to help him uncover the truth, only Mallory thinks it’s all fun and games…until the monster sets her sights on them!
The movie has some really positive attributes, like the appearance of the witch or “the wretch” (Madelynn Stuenkel) as she’s called in the film. The make-up and cinematography are out of this world. The creature design appears to be all practical make-up effects and the first time we get a glimpse of it in the woods, it reminded me of the storm drain scene at the beginning of IT. It has this ominous feel and the wretch is almost subconsciously speaking to Abbie and Dillon, beckoning them closer to the tree. The creature and creature violence remain a high point throughout the entire film. Once we see the wretch in her true form, it’s spectacularly creepy. Ben’s investigation of his neighbors also calls to mind classic “home detective” type movies like DISTURBIA, REAR WINDOW, or THE ‘BURBS. Not bad company to be sharing a comparison with the likes of Alfred Hitchcock. These moments with Ben spying on his neighbors are suspenseful and exciting. It definitely leads the audience down a path of discovery along with our protagonist and it made for some very tense moments.
Writer/Directors Brett Pierce & Drew T. Pierce did a great job of bringing it all together for a third act twist I doubt anyone will have seen coming. It’s a twist that could come off as cliche in the hands of lesser auteurs, but it took this writer by complete surprise. The set-up and execution had me wanting to applaud the filmmakers once the punch landed. Moments of the film did feel rushed and there were some minor pacing issues, particularly involving the early exposition of Ben’s acclimation to his new surroundings. It was almost as if the directors were so anxious to get to the good stuff that they blaze through the early getting to know you stuff. It might’ve been better if some of Ben’s social ladder climbing was left out, instead focusing more on his relationship with Mallory and their investigation into the neighbors.
THE WRETCHED was definitely a standout of the fest for me so far. With the right resources in the right place, it’s amazing what can be accomplished. The story kept this viewer engaged literally until the final frame, and the film showcases a creature that will undoubtedly be remembered during those late night solo trips to the bathroom. It deserves to find a larger audience, and I’m confident that THE WRETCHED has legs outside of just the festival circuit. Buckle up, because this ride has some fiendishly delightful twists.
“Buckle up, because this ride has some fiendishly delightful twists”
3 ½ Tombstones out of 5…