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Wretched, The
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by Jay Seaver

"Not wretched and more creative than usual."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2019 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: "The Wretched" does things that relatively few horror movies seem to think of, and does them with a skill that a lot of its brethren that are traveling more well-worn paths don't necessarily manage. That's enough to get the horror fans most susceptible to becoming jaded excited about it - the ones who love this stuff but who, in their jobs as festival programmers or production company employees, see every movie less creative filmmakers crank out must find their eyes going wide. I don't know that it will be the case for those not quite so immersed in the genre; somewhere along the way, there maybe should have been a little something more to make its often audacious choices really hit home.

Five days ago, Ben (John-Paul Howard) arrived to spend the summer with his father Liam (Jamison Jones), who has thoughtfully found him a job at the marina he manages. His co-worker Mallory (Piper Curda) and her kid sister Abbie (Zarah Mahler) are pretty cool, but he is, as is customary with children of recent divorce, not impressed with Sara (Azie Tesfai), his father's new girlfriend. He's also noticed Abbie (Zarah Mahler), the attractive mom next door, although when her son Dillon starts noticing that she's acting strange...

Filmmakers Brett & Drew Pierce are working in a great horror movie tradition here, of the kid who knows something awful is up but can't get anyone to believe him, but at times it seems like they chose the wrong kid - not the eight-year-old who is in the middle of it, but the seventeen-year-old who is next door and is only kind of involved at first. It puts the scares at a little distance, and makes it feel like it should be working harder to pull it together. A late-film twist reveals how this might all fit together, but that puts a lot on the audience as well, because there's no time to spell out details, and requires the audience to be horrified at the idea of what's been lost more than the actuality of it

It also feels like something of a squandering of a potentially really good monster. The program describes her as a "thousand-year-old witch", but for someone who is supposed to be kind of human, she's got no personality of her own, no sense of having lived a long time, no sense that she's got anything in her head other than living another day. Strictly speaking, that's probably enough, but it's hardly exciting. It's almost like she's gotten too good at jumping bodies and hiding, even if the whole thing where she devours memories seems a bit wonky in execution. The various alter egos she assumes never quite strike one as being the same person, although Madelynn Stuenkel does nifty physical work when "the wretch" is in monstrous form.

It's a bit of a bummer, because the Pierces have a nifty idea here and put it together well, using a lot of practical effects that hit the right buttons in the viewers' heads without often becoming cheap splatter, and there's a nice cast as well, the MVP being Piper Curda, who brightens almost every scene she's part of and shifts into a different gear when she has to do more. Part of what's fun about Mallory is that she seems to like Ben without having a lot of time for his nonsense, and John-Paul Howard captures how he can be good but petty well. The younger kids are strong as well, while Jamison Jones, Azie Tesfai, and Zarah Mahler sketch the adults in Ben's life well.

There's more ambition and creativity here than the average horror movie, and I respect the gambit they went for in the last act even if it's only something like 75% effective. I can't quite talk myself into saying "The Wretched" lived up to the hype it received, but that doesn't diminish its strengths by much.

link directly to this review at https://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=33362&reviewer=371
originally posted: 03/04/20 15:28:28
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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USA
  01-May-2020

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Australia
  01-May-2020




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