The Wretched (Movie Review)

Being a teenager is hard. You have to contend with bullying, family problems, and that odd neighbor that’s a MILF by day and a skin-walking witch by night. Or, at least, that’s the case in the new Horror offering The Wretched, which arrives on VOD and Digital as of Friday, May 1st, 2020, thanks to the good folks at IFC Midnight.

Seventeen-year-old Ben (John-Paul Howard: Hell or High Water 2016, Midnight, Texas series) has only just arrived at his father Liam’s (Jamison Jones: Hollywood Homicide 2003, General Hospital series) home in the country when he observes a series of oddities occurring next door. The least disconcerting of these is the fact that tattooed MILF Abbie (Zarah Mahler: Beyond Skyline 2017, Major Crimes series) struts about her property with her young son Dillon (Blane Crockarell: Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colors TV movie 2015, The Resident series) in tow, barely earning a glance from her robotic husband (Kevin Bigley: The Dilemma 2011, BoJack Horseman series).

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Before long, Ben begins work at the nearby marina and befriends a fiery brunette named Mallory (Piper Curda: I Didn’t Do It series, Youth & Consequences mini-series). As the activity next door continues to grow even stranger—with noises in the night and Dillon acting afraid of his own mother—Ben confides in Mallory and, understandably, meets with her playful disbelief. That is until the little boy goes missing and his father denies ever having a child—all this as the shadows whisper that what is forgotten will never be found.

Clocking in at 95 minutes, The Wretched was written and directed by The Pierce Brothers (Secrets of Fenville 2003, Deadheads 2011), Brett and Drew. The film also features the acting talents of Azie Tesfai (Jane the Virgin series, Supergirl series), Amy Waller (The Detour series, Runaways series), Gabriela Quezada Bloomgarden (Schooled series, 9-1-1 series), Richard Ellis (Veronica Mars series, I Am Not Okay with This series), Judah Abner Paul (Basket of Apples short 2017, The World Without You 2019), Ja’Layah Washington, and more.

A combination of the skin hag mythos and the Gaelic tales of the Cailleach, The Wretched is a unique story that pits a teen against the supernatural. Aimed at teens that adored such recent films as 2017’s masterful Pyewacket, The Wretched, though intended for a younger audience, is able to hold the attention of all ages throughout its run time. Combining several mythical beings into one eerie skin-walker, and offering moments of creepy body horror, along with a dual twist ending, this film packs a lot into its body and it looks amazing while doing so. Aesthetically pleasing as well as entertaining, it’s a well-done entry into the Teen Horror sub-genre.

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While not terrifying, The Wretched has some spooky moments, much in thanks to its wonderful makeup team who provide some phenomenal special effects makeup, as well as its aforementioned careful use of some remarkably well-done body horror. This particularly comes into play with the character Sara, portrayed flawlessly by Tesfai. Her skin bubbles and writhes, eventually giving birth to something monstrous, providing a stand-out moment in the film, horrifically speaking. There’s an artful aesthetic to the terror here, one that is more about a darkly haunting mood than blood or gore. This is maintained throughout thanks to the talented cinematography of Conor Murphy (Black Swell short 2016, Mickey and the Bear 2019), who effectively contrasts bright, sunny and colorful days at the marina with the mysteriously undulating shadows of night.

Of course, the ensemble cast are wonderful, as well. With the bulk of this mystery sitting atop his shoulders, Howard’s Ben delivers an excellent performance as a teenager who is being bullied, trapped between fighting parents, and struggling in his social interactions (read: with girls). Howard is careful to never become a simple trope, instead offering viewers a complicated young man who is equally as shocked and flabbergasted by his bizarre situation as we are. Complementing his character, Curda’s sassy little firecracker Mallory is a no-nonsense gal who laughs at Ben’s Witchipedia foibles and gives him hell when he strays. In this, Curda offers a strong female lead, one who never seems to consider kowtowing.

As the woman who sets this entire tale in motion, Mahler’s Abbie is unintentionally sexy, the MILF next door who has done nothing to gain the attention of the young man who is watching her every move. She’s sultry in an organic sense, and morphs fluidly into a soft-spoken yet sinister vixen. While Mahler certainly will make your skin crawl at times, as previously mentioned, the bulk of the really creeptastic moments go to her co-star Tesfai, in the role of Sara. Another strong female role, Tesfai’s Sara is, from Ben’s perspective, the woman standing between the unification of his parents. Sara is much more complicated than that: a kind woman who loves his father and just wants to see Ben and Liam happily coexisting. That is, at least, until her skin begins to writhe.

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Without giving too much away, The Wretched is an enjoyable foray into the woods, witches, salt circles, and complicated teenagers. The film provides plenty to hold your interest throughout its succinct run time, and its double twist ending is guaranteed to keep you hooked until the very last minute. A youthful, fun and eerie tale, The Wretched provides the perfect escape from our own troubling times. For this, Cryptic Rock gives The Wretched 4 of 5 stars.

IFC Midnight

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