Saturday, June 13, 2020

Movie Reviews: The Wretched

The Wretched
directed by Brett Pierce and Drew Pierce

This is a new horror movie that simultaneously hearkens back to some favorite low budget cheesy 80s films but at the same time is inventive enough to give me hope that horror movies can simultaneously be fun, scary and intelligent. 

It's also quite obviously set in my home state of Michigan though I can't remember if the story made that explicit. The Wretched was shot in Michigan.

The movie might as well have made its location explicit as there is plenty of expository dialogue about people maintaining vacation homes and farms in the north of the state.

That's what lots of Michiganders, including some of my family and friends, do. Boating is also a big part of the story. 

After some spoilerish events which I won't mention open the film we see that the film's default hero, troubled teen Ben (John-Paul Howard), has moved in with his father Liam (Jamison Jones). Liam is a genial man who is going through a divorce with Ben's mother. Ben was implicated in some minor criminality which is why his mother has temporarily sent him up north to live and work with his Daddy. Ben's mother hopes that some masculine discipline and role modeling will solve Ben's behavior issues.

Well Liam is less interested in playing strict paterfamilias than in trying to convince Ben to accept that Liam has swiftly moved on to a new younger significant other, Sara (Azie Tesfai), who works with Liam at the marina which he owns/runs. 

Ben is not thrilled at watching his father build a new relationship. Not at all.

Sara tries her best to befriend Ben but both she and Liam are upset when Ben profanely rejects her.
Working at the marina Ben runs afoul of some richer kids but also befriends a co-worker Mallory (Piper Curda) who might have some interest in him. Ben's unsure if he wants to reciprocate as he's more interested in another girl. 

Liam and Ben's neighbors are Ty (Kevin Bigley) and Abbie (Zarah Mahler-looking both delectable and dangerous). They have two children, the older son Dillon (Blaine Crockarell) and a baby. Dillon and Ben are friendly.

Driving home, when Abbie hits and kills a deer, she decides to bring it home to use it for meat. As she explains to a skeptical Ty she doesn't want Dillon growing up thinking that meat comes from the supermarket wrapped in plastic. Abbie's an outdoorsy type woman. She routinely takes Dillon for walks in the woods. Once when Dillon was briefly lost he heard some odd voices and saw some trees with some strange markings before his mother found him.

Well when Abbie guts the deer, the noxious smell indicates that something was already wrong with the deer before Abbie hit it. 

So there won't be any venison for dinner tonight. Abbie leaves the dead animal in the truck for the night. 

Returning home late, Ben notices some strange movements in his neighbors' yard and a new hole underneath their porch. As Ben investigates,Ty hears him and politely asks him to please stay on his own property; there are plenty of animals out and about. There's no need for Ben to be skulking around Ty's house. Ben's not sure what he saw or heard was an animal. It didn't move or sound like an animal.

Soon, Dillon comes to Ben's home and claims that something is wrong with his mother Abbie. He doesn't want to be around her. He doesn't want to go back home. This is one of the better horror films made in recent years. Yes, that could be a low standard by which to measure quality but this film takes itself just seriously enough to be believable. I'm not sure but it looked as if the primary special effects were not CGI or at least not just CGI. They looked real.

This film uses darkness and light equally well. There are some very obvious nods to Hansel and Gretel and other myths that involve monstrous women. I thought the film would have done better not to include a prequel scene in its opening moments. I appreciated that no one believes Ben's conclusions after he's done his research and found that 1 + 1 = 3. Occasionally this is played for laughs as Liam is convinced his son has been on drugs again. 

This film is creepy with minimal special effects. Seeing things disappear or appear where they shouldn't be is a common trick here. Ben's new habit of watching Abbie, who has suddenly changed her wardrobe from grunge wear to high slit low cut sundresses/gowns, through his window is not exactly calculated to make Liam or Mallory think his interests are protective and not voyeuristic. I enjoyed the outdoor and forest settings.
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