Starring John-Paul Howard, Jamison Jones, Zarah Mahler and Piper Curda
Written by Brett Pierce and Drew T. Pierce
Directed by the Pierce Brothers
There’s something wonderfully nostalgic about THE WRETCHED despite the fact that the majority of its runtime takes place in present day. It’s one of the slicker pieces of production the canon has seen all year, but it’s also one grounded in the slow-burn eeriness, vibe and practical effects of yesteryear’s fright films. It’s a melding of folkloric fear and creature-feature that—while lacking the memorable, go-for-broke chaos of the movies it emulates—succeeds as a faithful (and welcome) revival of classic horror filmmaking techniques.
When seventeen-year-old Ben (John-Paul Howard) moves back home with his estranged father (Jamison Jones), he begins to suspect the next-door neighbor might be up to some malevolent shenanigans. Dangerous obsession ensues as disappearances mount, strange sigils are discovered and Ben is left to wonder if it’s him going crazy or everyone else. Pretty much, it’s REAR WINDOW through the grue-smeared lens of EVIL DEAD. And for the most part, it succeeds in both cinematic arenas.
After a dread-soaked prologue introduces us to some spectacular cinematography, a moody original score and a slight hint as to the terror to follow, we’re introduced to our well-written protagonists and the lakeside town they inhabit. Writer-director duo the Pierce brothers (Brett & Drew) know how to mount tension, play with expectation and write surprisingly layered personalities even when certain subjects’ onscreen time is minimal. Truthfully, I wasn’t only surprised at just how much I began to empathize with each of the main players but was more stunned at just how talented the actors/actresses inhabiting the roles were. THE WRETCHED is a presentation in which all talents have combined to create an independent film that’s engaging, fun and technically accomplished.
Unfortunately, THE WRETCHED falters in its finale when a wholly unnecessary reveal occurs—plaguing the previously linear storyline with newly developed, brow-furrowing inconsistencies. This last-ditch effort to fool the audience hurt my experience as—instead of just enjoying the climax—I was distracted with a mental game of connect the dots as to how it made any plausible sense within the logic of the movie’s narrative. ***SPOILER***To be more direct, adding in a completely new, story-relevant character in the literal last five minutes that the audience has had zero knowledge of/connection with is never a good idea. ***END SPOILER*** This added twist coupled with the denouement simply don’t function as intended and only serve to contradict the “rules” established earlier. It’s also never made clear as to why Ben doesn’t just use his iPhone to snap pics of the macabre evidence he discovers. Would make convincing others a breeze—but then I guess the movie would just end too quickly? Oh well . . .
Despite THE WRETCHED’s confused clawing toward a disappointingly muddled finish, it’s nonetheless a compelling and expertly shot descent into demonic paranoia that establishes the Pierce Brothers as a welcome new voice (collectively speaking) in the horror genre. Living up to a plug from Sam Raimi is a hard thing to do, but Brett and Drew have earned the accolade.