The Dark and the Wicked

In Films by Samuel Love

It really is a great time to be a horror fan. In the last twelve months alone we’ve had some truly remarkable entries in the genre like Saint Maud and Relic, both incredibly powerful little chillers that burn slowly, and focus on getting deep under your skin and filling you with dread – rather than having ghoulies jumping out of the darkness at you in every single scene. Bryan Bertino’s latest, the quietly horrifying The Dark and the Wicked, is another example of the former style of horror, and launches on Shudder in the UK this week.

The initial premise might seem like something you’ve seen before. An estranged family gathers at the deathbed of the patriarch in secluded, rural farmhouse. As he gets closer to death, some sort of evil entity begins taking over the family. But there is something about The Dark and the Wicked that feels fresh and alive – although it has certainly been divisive with audiences. A quick glance at IMDb sees everything from 1-star reviews complaining of a lack of plot or character development, all the way up to flawless 10s saying that the ambiguity and slow, quiet pace was its greatest asset. This review certainly agrees with the latter. Yes, the characters aren’t hugely developed and the scene of the film is set rather quickly without much background. But therein lies part of its unshakeable mystery, and disturbing horror.

The Dark and the Wicked’s characters are clearly damaged people, and though we don’t necessarily find out why, it becomes clear that this evil darkness is preying on their vulnerability. Marin Ireland (The Umbrella Academy) is remarkable as Louise, the daughter who certainly has to deal with more disturbing visions than her brother (Michael Abbot Jr.). With a chilling sense of dread and foreboding from the very first frame all the way to the film’s final harrowing scare, the film becomes something of a waking nightmare that takes us into the psyche of the broken protagonists. It’s unclear what is real and what is simply manifested guilt, grief, or trauma. The delivery is truly distressing, as the characters each have horrifying visions that chip away at their sanity until the film’s terrifying and unsettlingly bleak climax. While the methods used are pretty standard – you can expect the usual disorienting visuals, ambient sound design and ominous visions of levitating dead – they all add up to create something truly nightmarish.

There’s something about The Dark and the Wicked that transcends easy explanation or description – but put it this way. It was one of the most disturbing and downright sinister films I’ve seen in a long time. While it may not initially seem all that interesting in premise or delivery from the film’s slow, mumbled first act, there are some truly unforgettable scares here that will plague your nightmares for weeks to come.

The Dark and the Wicked is a disturbing and sophisticated little horror that lives up to its title. Dark and wicked indeed.

The Dark and The Wicked is streaming exclusively on Shudder from 25th February 2021