Filmed under the more descriptive title Hag, this horror film from the Pierce Brothers is yet another exploration of the subject of rural witchcraft. This is a subject that’s been explored with sophistication (The Witch, Hereditary) and blunt effectiveness (Blair Witch); the Pierce brothers approach is very smash-and-grab 2020 in that it follows the Stranger Things route of mashing up genres with cheerful efficiency.
Thus our hero is Ben (John Paul Howard), who arrives in a backwoods hovel with his arm in a cast after a previous escapade led to him spending some time with his dad. But the neighbours next door bear watching; there’s a tree witch on the loose, and Satanic symbols, hard-driving sex and all sorts of shenanigans are going on. When a child goes missing, Ben manages to persuade Mallory (Piper Curda) to help him explore the sinister property, but tree witches don’t like being disturbed when they’re on the job, and things quickly jump up a notch or two.
The Wretched is quite an odd film in that it flirts with specific genre archetypes without settling on them. There’s a sense of dread and some pagan symbolism which harks back to Ari Aster’s Hereditary, but the plot development is lifted from Rear Window, or more specifically, update Disturbia. Meanwhile the kids-in-peril/old place angle seems specifically grabbed from Stephen King, and yet the film’s best idea, that the memory of those lost can be immediately erased from our minds, is undersold for the majority (but not all) of the film.
The Wretched isn’t a bad horror film, but it stops short of taking flight; the plotting is just too conventional to deliver scares, although the physicality of the witch and her doings is impressively wrought. It’s the kind of horror that functions as an effective calling card for the directors, but ultimately doesn’t deliver enough to be on a notable genre entry on its own merits. There’s a satanic panic going on for sure, but The Wretched doesn’t do enough to locate the heart of darkness within an adolescent’s coming of age. Growing up is scary enough, but with a decent plot twist up their sleeve, the makers of The Wretched don’t expand their big idea to form a striking, foreboding world in the way that a classic horror can.
The Wretched is released today (May 8th 2020) in the UK. Amazon link is below.