Just like Why Don’t You Just Die?, which I recently reviewed, The Wretched premiered at Grimmfest in 2019, but I didn’t get the chance to review it at the time. However, last Friday The Wretched came out on Prime Video.
The writing/directing team behind the horror-comedy Deadheads – the Pierce Brothers – focused more on the supernatural/body horror sub-genre for their second feature. Grown up on the set of the cult classic Evil Dead, for which their father served as the special effects’ artist, with The Wretched the Pierce Brothers show once again that working on practical FX is really their forte.
Continue reading and check my final grade below…
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The Wretched – a familiar story with an unfamiliar twist
The movie follows Ben, a stroppy teenage boy who struggles with his parent’s imminent divorce. When he goes on holiday with his father, he’s forced to face off with a thousand-year-old witch, who has taken over the body of a woman who lives next door.
As you can tell, the story in The Wretched is quite formulaic and familiar, and so are the main plot points: the relationship with Ben and his dad, the fact that Ben is depicted as a loser who gets bullied by a bunch of stereotypical jocks, his love interest, the fact that nobody believes him… it all feels like stuff we’ve seen in teenage horror flicks before. However, this movie comes with a twist – no, not the plot twist that we’ll talk about later, but the fact that The Wretched is quite violent and gory in comparison to most supernatural horror movies.
Practical effects and unexpected moments
In fact, one of the standout elements in The Wretched is represented by the extremely convincing and well-done special effects, which are achieved through a combination of CGI (used smartly and sparingly) and creative practical effects. The witch-creature itself is a rather threatening villain: although her powers aren’t defined and seem to depend on what the script needs them to do, they do make her a truly scary antagonist. On top of that, the makeup effects and the violence that the witch is capable of manage to up the stakes in a very refreshing way.
In regard to the powers of the villain, one of them is that she’s able to make people forget things: this comes in handy when The Wretched reveals its big twist – don’t worry, I’m not going to spoil it. Twists can often feel manipulative or even nonsensical in horror movies, but here the plot reveal is actually well set up and thought out, resulting in a genuine and effective surprise.
Unlikeable characters played by likeable actors
However, one of the elements that lessens the effect of the twist is the fact that, as a viewer, it’s really hard to care for any of the characters. Ben, who is our protagonist, is particularly unlikeable: maybe teenagers would be able to identify with his detached and stroppy approach to everything and everyone, but as an adult I really struggled not to find him extremely obnoxious. The same goes, unfortunately, for every other character: they range from cookie-cutter (Ben’s love interest) to annoying (the woman who later gets possessed by the witch).
Oddly enough, though, every actor in the movie did a pretty good job. I might think the characters were quite bad all-around, but the actors made annoying characters and dreadful dialogue sound way better than it probably was on paper. Surprisingly, the child actors in the film weren’t bad either: they felt genuine and didn’t come off as though they were reading a script they couldn’t understand, as it happens in most movies.
The Wretched is, overall, a competently made and, at times, quite effective horror movie. This film alternates impactful moments (everything that revolves around the witch, basically, and the plot twist), with derivative aspects (such as the whole story and the Disturbia-inspired middle of the movie).
Given the context of the current lockdown, which caused many promising-looking horror films to be postponed, The Wretched is probably one of the best recently-released horror movies you can watch on digital. Fans of supernatural horror are most likely going to enjoy The Wretched and even those of you who are looking for something more, there are elements in this movie that will probably satisfy you.
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