Fantasia Festival 2019: The Wretched (World Premiere, 2019)

The Wretched (2019)

The Wretched

Directors (and writers): Brett Pierce & Drew T. Pierce

Cast: John-Paul Howard, Piper Curda, Jamison Jones, Azie Tesfai, Zarah Mahler, Kevin Bigley, Blane Crockarell

The Wretched is a 2019 horror film about a teenage boy, recently moved with his father following the divorce, to discover that the neighbor’s wife is possessed by a thousand year old witch.

Witch-oriented horror movies are far and few. In fact, whenever they come, it definitely takes a very familiar take. The Wretched aims to breath new life in the genre. How it does it is by putting together two witch tales together. Choosing to use practical effects instead of CGI, it also delivers a lot of realistic and genuinely unsettling moments. It packs in a few jump scares here and there but mostly, it relies heavily on building tension. The scenes are driven by the anticipation of horror and the creepy movements of the witch and learning about how this one works and attacks.

The story is split into two parts. On one hand, it has a teenage boy Ben (John-Paul Howard) defiant and working hard to accept his parents’ divorce and adapting to living in the small town. He meets a girl, Mallory (Piper Curda) who works at the marina with him and there is a little love arc there. Most of this feels mostly unneeded and fairly by the numbers but it helps ground the story and fills in the gap. What helps is that both John-Paul Howard and Piper Curda deliver well on their roles. They aren’t annoying to watch or have any dumb dialogue. In fact, they both have quite a bit of charm thanks to a well-written script. Mallory is a character with a lot of sass and that offsets the clueless attitude of Ben. When in these dramatic bits, it weakens the story in general.

On the other side, The Wretched is its strongest when in its horror elements, which it luckily spends a lot of time. It has a lot to do with Zarah Mahler delivering a solid performance that is every bit as creepy as it is suspenseful as the witch’s possession reveals the clues to how this witch works and her goals. To keep it spoiler-free, let’s just say its a truly unique take on the genre. Her eyes and expressions divulge a lot of uneasiness and every movement also sends chills. From the little details of the witch’s symbol and finding bits and pieces as Ben digs further and observes from afar, especially as the film enters into the final act and the big twist justifies that the scenes that seem oddly fitted into the film suddenly all make sense.

The Wretched has some small flaws and the background defiant teenage story feels a bit “been there done that”. Luckily, the directors have a great backdrop and create an outstandingly unique new witch tale that makes up for those moments. The Pierce Brothers have found a new twist to this not frequently explored subgenre while also showing off that they are all about the details and have the creativity to bring some fresh ideas to the horror genre. It’ll be nice to see what else they come up with next. Of course, The Wretched world premiered at Fantasia Festival so its one to look out for in the upcoming festival circuits and comes highly recommended.