Drawing on an emotional thread of dread, creator of nihilist cult slasher The Strangers Bryan Bertino is bringing his visceral sense of fear to backwoods hauntings and family peril. The Dark and The Wicked is Bertino’s second break away from the slasher genre, following up his last supernatural favorite as the producer of Oz Perkins’s The Blackcoat’s Daughter. Dark, brooding and holding heart ache at its core Bertino’s latest seems to have found a way to blend his profound ability for visceral terror and raw empathy that brings dread to every frame.
In the backwoods a man lies dying with every waking breath. His wife is distraught over the challenge of medical care in such a rural vicinity and it’s come time where she now fears the worst. Her children Louise (Marin Ireland) and Michael (Michael Abbot Jr.) are called to come and witness their father’s final breath. As soon as they arrive, they notice something isn’t right with their mother (Julie Oliver-Touchstone). She talks of someone else being there, someone who wants something, someone unnatural to this world. The siblings are perplexed, mother has never been religious and they worry she’s unable to continue caring for their father. Discussion about her safety ensues only to be startled by a noise out in the barn.
Death holds an everlasting presence on the family and challenges their belief in the supernatural. As Louise and Michael try to figure out how best to care for their father they meet a priest who confesses to filling their mother’s head with talk of the devil. He tells of how he thinks the devil has a hold on their fathers soul and that something very terrible has made itself known in the barn. Outraged, the siblings dismiss the man and blame him for psychological endangerment but it is not soon after that they find themselves confronted with more than a simple delusion.
Not a frame goes by that isn’t capturing the very real darkness that comes with a death in the family. The performances pull on heart strings with their stirring portrayals of the stress, depression and anger that can come during a time of hardship. Seeking not just to victimize, Bertino creates a very real home trauma story and adds his flair of dread to highlight their confrontation with death. Having made himself familiar and more adept with supernatural elements in The Blackcoat’s Daughter, it’s easy to see Bertino’s skill has become heightened within the sub-genre’s format. The Dark and the Wicked holds a very artistic candle in the dark to bring out ghosts and demons and holds its fire with heartstrings that endlessly tug throughout the film. It takes it time, absorbing every moment of angst with a long shot and bringing the terror into full with sporadic close angles that make the horror personal. The rural landscape feels cold and barren, an old wooden house feels as near death as the man lying in it and Bertino knows exactly how to use his elements to craft an unending tone of misery.
Coming out of Fantasia Fest The Dark and the Wicked has already won the hearts and chills of many. With such a span of work, this film proves to be a continuing practice of excellence for Bertino and shows no sign of stopping. Keep your eyes peeled for this backwoods evil to come to a screen near you.