Witch stories are on the rise, and there are two kinds of witch movies that I really dig: modern feminist witches that kick patriarchal ass, and creepy ancient witches that eat babies. The Wretched, directed by the Pierce Brothers, falls firmly in the latter category.
Ben (John-Paul Howard) is spending the Summer with his dad who is recently separated from his mom. While trying to find his way into the local scene, he discovers some strange happenings at his next door neighbor's. Their son is scared of his mother, who is suddenly acting very strange, because, as we suspect from the opening prologue, now has a witch living in her skin.
The Wretched is very well crafted, and does an excellent job of maintaining a dark, creepy tone throughout without sacrificing the charm of its young leads. The primal look of the witch is unnerving, but only seen just enough to make your hair stand on end, and the crunchy, bony sound design really sells what's happening when she's invading someone else's skin. One thing I found pleasantly surprising was how it gave each character–even those who were destined to be killed off minutes later–a lot of personality and a bit of a backstory, lending their inevitable doom a lot more weight than if they were just the sort of blank characters found in most slashers.
The set up seems simple, but has a surprising amount of complexity by the end. While some of the character arcs are a bit cliche, there's a unique element of the witch's mythos that brings the familial themes to the forefront. One of the weapons in this witch's kit is the ability to make someone forget about their children so she can steal them away to the forest to eat them later. This makes her a formidable opponent for Ben, who's father already questions his honesty due to his past with drug addiction, but it also makes for some very clever twists and turns as the film moves towards its intense climax.
The Wretched is a witch movie that will have you squirming in your seat, and had the audience gasping, the ending eliciting lots of "oohs" from those around me. It's a very clever and carefully crafted witch movie that will certainly make its way into lots of lists as it gets seen by wider audiences after the recent announcement that IFC will be distributing the film. If you enjoyed The Witch or either version of Suspiria, The Wretched is highly worth seeking out!
The Wretched is directed by Brett Pierce and Drew T. Pierce, and stars John-Paul Howard, Piper Curda, and Jamison Jones. It played at the 2019 Buried Alive Film Festival in Atlanta, but keep an eye on the official Facebook page for screening updates!