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A film review by James Gardner

One might be ready to dismiss The Dark and the Wicked as just another haunted house movie, full of creaking doors and offscreen whispers but nothing to differentiate from the thousands of other haunted house movies that are a remote click away. However, this movie stands out in this category and then some. The plot has adult siblings Michael (Michael Abbott, Jr.) and Louise (Marin Ireland) return to the Texas farm they call home to help their mother take care of their dying father, especially since the mother seems to be succumbing to the strain. Worse, there is a supernatural evil that is attacking the family farm and the family’s minds. Throughout the movie, this entity systematically tears the family apart in a matter of days, and the viewer watches it happen in agonizing detail.

One might also be tempted to pigeonhole every movie containing a haunted house into the subgenre, for these movies can be everything from dark comedies, to heartfelt character studies, to ostentatious special effects extravaganzas. The Dark and the Wicked is none of these. This movie is, at times, an exercise in endurance, not because it is a bad movie but rather the opposite. If a horror movie’s ultimate goal is to create a feeling of horror in the subject, then The Dark and the Wicked is as pure an example of a horror movie as they come.

From the very first scene in the movie, viewers are introduced to the family farm, a lonely stretch of land where the sounds of the wind blowing across the plain is only broken up by the farm’s bleating goats. It seems almost misleading to call this movie a haunted house movie because it’s not just the house that’s haunted. The very land the house stands on is full of moaning wind and the occasional lupine howl from the shadows. Within this setting, both Abbott, Jr. and Ireland give very nuanced performances, merely giving clipped declarations and pithy replies as their characters try to make sense of the horrors of what their parents, especially the mother, experienced.

As the scares pile on, and writer/director Bryan Bertino turns the screws on these siblings and the audience, there is never a feeling he is going over the top or merely throwing in a jump scare just because. Just as the siblings are trying to find explanations for sights and sounds that defy explanation, and as what waits in the dark begins closing in, the audience feels their tension gradually become close to unbearable, thanks to a minimal soundtrack of the aforementioned environmental noises, cinematography that makes chopping vegetables seem dangerous, and a violin score that feels like the bow is being drawn across one’s own nerve endings.  Much like those rides known for punishing G-forces and a myriad of corkscrews and loops, finishing this movie might not be considered an entirely pleasant movie experience but rather an arduous experience from which one is able to walk away.

Few movies are as expert at multiplying the dread as The Dark and the Wicked. It not only pushes Michael and Louise deep into the dread quagmire, but it makes the love they have for both their parents the anchor that pulls them under. This movie might not be for those who like their haunted house movies to feel more like the haunt attractions that are popular around Halloween. This is a movie that plunges the audience into a world where there is little hope, that grief has its own gravitational pull, and there is always something stalking out in the darkness. The Dark and the Wicked is a slowly twisting knife directly into your heart, so it’s best to have something life-affirming, at the very least a Youtube video featuring pets being cute, on standby.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Reviewer

James Gardiner is a voracious reader and devourer of all things HORROR. Follow James on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
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