Fantasia 2020 Review: The Dark & the Wicked
Bryan Bertino's supernatural horror is scary as hell
Written by Katherine McLaughlin
From the director of The Strangers comes a nightmarish depiction of pain, suffering and scrutiny of faith that never lets up. Set on a rural farm, the children of a terminally ill man return home to help their mother out with care-giving duties. She’s warned them off entering the property but they refuse to listen.
Bryan Bertino wrote and directed this frightening supernatural horror on his family farm. He uses the isolated location, the farmyard animals, the enclosed pens, the stark surroundings, religious imagery and a father’s deathbed to skilfully eke out dread and suspense as he envelops his characters in suffocating layers of grief. Marin Ireland, Michael Abbott Jr. and Julie Oliver-Touchstone all turn in affecting performances – the mother character is already severely worn out by her husband’s illness and burden of care on introduction. Her children are not far behind; their guilt driving them to despair and desperate actions.
The film stares intently into the darkness and rightly reflects the fear, confusion and chaos of a family on the brink of self-destruction. If the devil came knocking on the door a while back, then he’s made himself a cosy home in this rural setting. The manifest evil that plagues this family is already in the house, and Bertino uses everything at his disposal to invoke a claustrophobic atmosphere of impending doom and woe.
As American flags sit neatly behind characters who inexplicably inflict harm on themselves it’s tempting to read the personal tragedy at the centre of the film as allegory for where the USA is heading. It’s brutal and tense, and the violence spreads like a virus. The figures that inhabit this picture, including a kindly nurse (Lynn Andrews), or a priest (Xander Berkeley) who evokes images of The Exorcist, are all damned. Even as the characters scream for mercy their prayers go unanswered and it’s scary as hell. Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.
Director: Bryan Bertino
Screenwriter: Bryan Bertino
Cast: Marin Ireland, Michael Abbott Jr., Xander Berkeley
Distributor: RLJ Entertainment
Running Time: 94 mins