The Wretched Movie Review
Written by Joanna K. Neilson
Released by Vertigo Films
Written and directed by Brett Pierce and Drew T. Pierce
2019, 95 minutes, Rated 15 (UK)
Released on UK digital platforms 8th May 2020
John-Paul Howard as Ben
Piper Curda as Mallory
Jamison Jones as Liam
Azie Tesfai as Sara
Zarah Mahler as Abbie
Ben is a kind-hearted, but rebellious, teenage boy struggling to cope with his parent’s inevitable divorce. He’s still atoning for the misadventure that brought about his broken arm, so for this long hot summer he’s stuck working at his father’s marina business. Dealing with his Dad dating a new woman, and dodging the bitchy - sometimes violent - local teens, Ben soon takes an interest in the sweet new family next door, but is the first to realise that something is very, very wrong with the family’s mother…
As ever creepier events start to encircle him, Ben soon suspects that the woman might not even be human. And of course, nobody - not even his long-suffering father - will believe his concerns. It’s time to head to ‘witchipedia’ and try to figure out what to do to save the day. If it’s not already too late.
But just what is the creature really, and how can it be stopped? If at all?
Despite at times veering into thriller territory, the Pierce Brothers wring every moment of fear and horror from Ben's twisted situation. The creature he faces has some deeply terrifying powers and knows exactly how to use them. It - or ‘she’ - is very clever and utterly merciless. The Wretched establishes the monster’s rules perfectly and plays through Ben’s battle with it, step-by-logical-step - but this tough mother won’t be going down easily.
Monstrous mothers are quite a frequent theme in horror, but it’s done extremely well here. While we get to see the truth of it long before Ben does, that just makes the horror of what’s she’s doing all the more terrifying. The Wretched also doesn’t take itself too seriously - except when it really matters. It succeeds in that ever-tricky balance of horror and humour, without ever getting too goofy, and most importantly, it and its hapless characters are always likeable and interesting to watch.
This is really one of the smarter horror movies I’ve seen in quite a while, and pulls off some unflinching metaphors of abuse within families with great compassion and intelligence. I haven’t seen paranoia and childhood fear displayed this well since the underseen Ghoul (2012). Though it contains plenty of nods to paranoid film classics like Rear Window (or its glossier grandchild, Suburbia) that comfy sense of familiarity only makes the gnarly twists and turns more enjoyable.
It also reminded me strongly of The Hallow and Mama - with a dab or two of the creepy The Witch or Pyewacket thrown in. Still, this is entirely its own beast and it’s a joy to watch it uncurl into a wholly gripping horror movie.
It’s clear that nobody we meet is entirely safe from the fearsome mother's corrupting influence, or the terrifying brutality she embodies. In fact, it often seems like Ben may never be safe - or free from paranoia - ever again.
So, as we peer nervously from our windows, is that lively young family next door simply a little bit weird, or is there actually something far, far worse lurking just underneath their sunny facade..?
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