The Wretched made headlines earlier this summer for being the #1 movie in theaters for six weeks in a row. Great news for a horror film, right? Well, the other side of that fact is that The Wretched was only delivered to drive-in theaters due to Corona Virus and has only grossed $1,700,000 in domestic ticket sales as of this week. This is still a major accomplishment, though, and it propelled me to rent the film on-demand last night while enjoying a cold beer with my husband. Written and directed by Brett & Drew Pierce, the newest release from IFC Films follows a troubled teen, Ben, who’s visiting his father in a seaport town during his parents divorce. When his neighbors bring home a dead deer they intend to harvest, well, that’s when things get tricky. One night, something crawls out of the animal’s carcass and possesses Ben’s neighbor’s wife. It turns out the creature is a centuries old witch who feeds on children, and the teen is the only one who can stop her before she claims the souls of more victims. Produced by Ed Polgardy, Chang Tseng and co-producer Travis Culteri, The Wretched stars John-Paul Howard (“Midnight, Texas”), Piper Curda, Jamison Jones (“General Hospital”), Azie Tesfai (“SuperGirl”), Zarah Mahler (“Ghost Whisperer”), Kevin Bigley (“BoJack Horseman”) and Madelynn Stuenkel.
I think it’s beneficial that The Wretched was sent to drive-in theaters during a global pandemic because it gave audiences a chance to embrace it. The Wretched is not a bone-chilling Hereditary type film or a sequel in the Conjuring series, so I suspect audiences would have neglected this little gem had theaters been functioning as normal. Another side of this idea is that The Wretched relies heavily on drama and suspense more than it does its horror elements, and for whatever reason this is often polarizing to horror fans. Neither of these points were deal breaks for me, Hell, I even enjoyed my viewing enough to give it a “B,” but the masses are sheep and, again, would have ignored the latest picture from Brett & Drew Pierce. With cinematography by Conor Murphy and editing by Terry Yates, The Wretched is prime for traditional venues, with butts in uncomfortable seats and overpriced popcorn, and yet I think the drive-in situation saved its revenue. It’s earthy and cinematic and engaging; probably one of my favorite witch movies to come out in the last few years. I found the merger between monster and sorceress to be particularly interesting.
John-Paul Howard has a terrific career ahead if The Wretched is anything to go by. He played the role of Ben so precisely, with the balanced mix of empathy, bravery and teenage angst. This is, perhaps, one of the biggest selling points of the movie. It has all the gears to be a “teens vs monster movie,” but no – Ben really handles business on his own. In doing so, there’s a lot on the line. Originally I was going to complain that the movie didn’t have a body count, however, most of the deaths are featured off camera and on a second thought The Wretched massacred entire families. It’s bloody, spooky and has just the right pace to keep the audience’s attention even when the witch isn’t attacking someone. The viewing experience flew by and any time spent on the couch when you don’t feel like you’re wasting your time means it was money well spent. Could The Wretched have benefited from a few well-placed jump scares and more on-screen deaths? Sure, but I don’t think it was ever developed as that type of movie. It reads more like a “man vs nature” scenario with devastated families at its core. The movie thematics and emotional heart-string plucks proved due crucial to write this off as only a splatter flick. Beautiful execution of story from start to finish, cast and crew!
I almost failed the movie because a dog and a bunny die, however, I was able to push through enough to give The Wretched a solid rating. Find it on-demand and at select drive-in theaters across the country. Final Score: 7.5 out of 10.