Twelve years ago, writer/director Bryan Bertino made his debut with The Strangers. The claustrophobic nightmare is one of the scariest movies I have seen in the last fifteen years and one of my favorite horror movies of the 2000’s. It was an impressive debut film, yet Bertino’s follow-up films, Mockingbird and The Monster, failed to make a dent whatsoever. In fact, I didn’t even know those films existed until I was looking up Bertino’s filmography. It almost seemed like Bertino was a legitimate one-hit-wonder.
The Dark and the Wicked, Bertino’s latest feature, shows that he still knows how to make a great horror film. This is an incredibly tense and horrifying movie with a deep story and themes that grips you from minute one. Bertino had made not only the best film I have seen at this years Fantasia Festival, but one of the best movies I have seen in 2020.
The Dark and the Wicked is exactly what the title says it is: it’s dark and it’s wicked. The film takes place on a secluded farm in a nondescript rural town where a man is slowly dying. His two children, Louise (Marine Ireland) and Michael (Michael Abbott Jr.) are summoned back to the family farm to await the inevitability of their father’s death. What initially appears to be a timeless ritual of loss and remembrance turns out to be something much darker, marked by waking nightmares and a growing sense that something evil is taking over the family.
Throughout The Dark and the Wicked I was getting a lot the same vibes as I got from Ari Aster’s masterful debut, Hereditary, which is high praise from this critic as it was my favorite movie of 2018. The opening scene sets the tone of the film right away. It’s dark, tense, and mysterious. This carries throughout the entire film. Bertino never lets up and the film only gets more tense and more horrifying. There are a number of startling images that will stick in your mind for long after the film is over.
But The Dark and the Wicked isn’t just a movie about the scares. This is a deeply emotional family drama about regret, communication, and loneliness. Ireland and Abbott Jr. are excellent as two siblings who have barely communicated with their parents and now must come back when their father is dying and must deal with the guilt of not being with them enough and not caring enough about them. Bertino masterfully blends this story within the the terror and gore to give us a fully rounded film that is as thoughtful and it is scary.
One of the things about The Strangers that made it so scary was its setting. That film takes place entirely in a log cabin in the woods and Bertino plays with the space and makes the film feel incredibly claustrophobic and terrifying as the main characters are living in terror the whole film. Bertino visits the same idea in The Dark and the Wicked. Though there are a couple scenes outside the farm, Louise and Michael are stuck there awaiting their father’s death when dark, twisted things begin to happen to their disbelief. But as the happenings continue to occur, Louise and Michael slowly begin to believe that something otherworldly is happening, yet are stuck at the farm with their father. They are living in hell on this farm, and yet they can’t escape and that only adds to the films endless tension.
The Dark and the Wicked is the kind of horror movie that will have wanting to cover your face in fear, yet you’ll find it impossible to do because of how gripped you are. This is a relentlessly tense, genuinely horrifying, expertly crafted film. The Dark and the Wicked is the best horror movie of 2020.
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