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John’s Horror Corner: The Dark and the Wicked (2020), a chilling and unforgiving account of mortals exposed to primordial evil.

March 19, 2021

MY CALL: This most impressive film boasts outstanding writing, filmmaking and performances. Chillingly unforgiving, it begins with an unnerving tension that never loosens its grip. For a film with so little say, it leaves me stunned. This movie doesn’t spare anyone. Not the elderly, the devout, the innocent, or the young. It has no moral, no allegory, no hidden meaning, and no special message. Just raw, unadulterated horror befalling no one who deserved it. Expect to be impressed… and drained. MORE MOVIES LIKE The Dark and the Wicked: Looking for more horrifying family therapy sessions, try Frailty (2001), Goodnight Mommy (2014), The Visit (2015), Get Out (2017), Hereditary (2018), Us (2019), The Lodge (2019) or Midsommar (2019).

This is one of those film’s I’d probably have never were it not for the recommendation of Mark Hofmeyer, who turned me to the likewise unforgiving film The Blackcoat’s Daughter (2015; podcast discussion).

From its dawning scenes, this film casts a quietly threatening atmosphere as we observe a day in the life of a farmer’s wife, and one of the final days of the ill farmer (Michael Zagst). The drab palette of the chilly bleak setting complements shots of the ominous night unnerving a barned goat herd. Something is clearly amiss. This is a feeling you’ll find inescapable throughout this film, from very beginning to very end.

Moving to the house as the adult children of the home-hospiced patriarch arrive, there is something wrong with Mother (Julie Oliver-Touchstone; Preacher, Blood Suckers from Outer Space). She urges her children to leave, that they don’t understand, that she doesn’t need them… but her claims clearly shroud some dark secret truth. Siblings Louise (Marin Ireland; The Empty Man) and Michael (Michael Abbott Jr.; Hell House) soon come to learn more about their mother’s strange behavior, and stay to tend to their father on the remote rural farm. There are some truly gorgeous shots in this film. It’s bleak… but the camera certainly found beauty in the sunsets silhouetted by the ranch’s black edges.

The household carries a less in-you-face Paranormal Activity (2007)Poltergeist (1982) meets Insidious(2010) vibe. Their haunting develops from subtly shifting objects to disturbing waking visions. But the discovery of their mother’s journal brings with it dark revelations. As most haunting films tend to wander into over-the-top theatrics with gore or jump scares, this film remains more subdued. This lighter touch makes its presentation more grounded, but more calmly disturbing. And disturbing they are.

I am not easily shocked. But the kitchen scene had me reeling and yelling at my television—just brutal! I’d also warn of the suicide scenes (yes, plural), one of which being notably more graphic than the others. And let’s also issue a general warning about knitting needles. Dastardly things, they are! Considering the obvious supernatural nature of this film, its execution of violence is often rather unsensationalized. But it will disturb you no less for it.

Viewers will find nothing explained in this story. We don’t learn any whys or hows to the maladies that have stricken this family. Essentially this film chronicles an example of a mortal brush with true evil. But primordial evil is not meant to be understood… it is only to be feared.

This was a solid film with outstanding writing, filmmaking and performances across the board. It begins with an unnerving tension that never loosens its grip until the credits. For a film with so little say, it leaves me stunned. Writer and director Bryan Bertino (Mockingbird, The Monster, The Strangers) has birthed something chillingly unforgiving. This movie doesn’t spare anyone. Not the elderly, the devout, the innocent, or the young. It has no moral, no allegory, no hidden meaning, and no message. Just raw, unadulterated horror befalling no one who deserved it.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. March 21, 2021 11:28 am

    Awesome review and you’ve certainly encouraged me to watch this one. Added it to my Amazon queue.

    • John Leavengood permalink
      March 21, 2021 4:54 pm

      I hope you enjoy it! I was so much more impressed than I expected to be, despite a strong rec from a trusted source.

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