[Fantasia Festival 2019 Review] The Wretched is Wytches by Way of Disturbia
Stop me if you’ve heard this before. A delinquent teenager discovers that something evil lives next door, but no one believes him. If you’re of an older generation, you can swap “delinquent teenager” for “James Stewart,” if you want. But from Rear Window to Disturbia, it’s a smart gimmick that brings with it paranoia and thrills. Brett and Drew Pierce’s The Wretched, which is having its World Premiere at Fantasia Festival 2019, owes a lot to these films, but one-ups Disturbia with a beastly witch, tons of gore and some fantastic performances.
And unlike Disturbia, we immediately know shit ain’t right here.
The first act follows two neighboring families in this small Michigan town. First, we have Ben (John-Paul Howard) who’s visiting his divorced dad Liam (Jamison Jones) for the summer. It’s obvious from the cast on his arm and his desire not to talk about how it happened that the kid gets into trouble. He’s also not over his parents’ breakup and wants them back together. But the appearance of Sara (Azie Tesfai), his father’s girlfriend, kind of cinches that deal. Things aren’t all bad, though. He works for his father at a pier where he meets a cute girl named Mallory (Piper Curda). She’s funny and joshes him about nepotism, while secretly telling her sister how cute he is. The sister, for the record, doesn’t see it.
Meanwhile, his father’s next door neighbors look like your typical family. There’s the parents Abbie (Zarah Mahler) and Ty (Kevin Bigley), their baby and their preteen son Dillon (Blane Crockarell). While out hiking, Abbie and Dillon get a little lost. Dillon briefly wanders off and stumbles upon a foreboding tree with a gaping hole at the base. From the hole, he can hear his mother calling him, alternating between cajoling him and berating him to come to the hole. Before he can, Abbie finds him and breaks the spell. When he turns around, the tree is gone, but the damage is done. On the way home, they hit a deer and bring the carcass with them because Abbie grew up hunting and wants to make use of the meat.
When she slices it open, putrid guts filled with worms spill out and she leaves it for the night. But there’s more than just wormy guts in the deer. That night, an ancient evil slithers out of the deer and starts to wreck havoc in Abbie’s family, literally inserting itself into their life. As oddities start to pile up, Ben begins to suspect that something bad is happening at Dillon’s house.
Right away, we know that Abbie is possessed by the creature that crawled out of the deer and writers/directors Brett and Drew make incredible use of the dynamic that brings. By focusing partially on Abbie’s household, they are able to inject some disgusting and gooey body horror and intense sequences into the narrative.
For instance, there’s a particularly haunting baby cam sequence where we see the creature reaching for the baby. But the body horror is a fantastic addition. Abbie’s body becomes like the wormy deer as the thing hollows her out and wears her like a suit. Seeing Abbie’s changes is intense, particularly with the added stakes of her children. It adds a cool dynamic to what could have been a typical Rear Window knock-off.
Ben, meanwhile, deals with typical teen drama as he tries to fit in with the various social groups at the pier, to mixed results. He starts showing up home late, skipping dinners and drinking. Typical teen stuff, but it's inclusion adds to the distrust. When Dillon shows up in his room, terrified of his mother, no one believes Ben. Partly because of the witch's powers but also because of the way Ben has acted all summer. By the time Ben is breaking into the neighbor’s house to find clues, his father is ready to throw his hands up in disgust.
The witch itself is more feral than human and looks fantastic, due to some great special effect and makeup work. It reminds me a bit of the monstrous creatures in the Wytches comicbook and is truly disgusting and freaky to see on screen. The way it works its powers and the mythology the Pierce Brothers weave together makes it all the more terrifying while adding twists to the story. And by telling this dual story of Ben and Dillon, we get to see the nose slowly tightening some Ben and Liam’s throat. The pressure cooker situations the filmmakers create accentuate the suspense to the point you're left wondering if it's even possible for Ben and his dad to survive. Or if there will be anyone left to remember them.
My only real complaint is something in the third act that I don't think works very well. My thoughts might change on a second viewing, but right now it doesn’t seem plausible and feels inserted solely for narrative reasons to heighten the drama and to give Ben a reason to go on the offensive.
That slight problem aside, this is a very strong, creepy and gory movie that is probably the most entertaining movie I’ve seen at Fantasia so far. By smashing together a supernatural entity, body horror and familial horror with the Rear Window-esqe gimmick, the Pierce Brothers brothers have crafted a fantastic horror film.
Keep an eye on this one, folks.