Even though I promised myself during this quarantine that I’d be more selective with my choices of straight-to-streaming horror flicks I guess I’m just a glutton for punishment. Actually, in all honestly this latest film I’m reviewing wasn’t near as bad as some of the other underwhelming genre features of the last few months, but it’s still very flawed. “The Wretched” is a supernatural movie that premiered in 2019 at the Fantasia International Film Festival but received its wide release at the start of May 2020. Directed by Brett and Drew Pierce “The Wretched” doesn’t try very hard to stand out from the crowd, rather it attempts to blend in with the greats of the genre’s past by blatantly utilizing typical horror tropes and providing its own spin on these ideas. The result it a sufficiently creepy, if ultimately flawed, attempt to revisit a bygone era of horror.
“The Wretched” stars young up and comer John-Paul Howard as Ben, a rebellious teenager who visits his father for the summer taking employment as a dock worker. There he meets a young woman named Mallory, played by Piper Curda, as well as the seemingly perfect family next door. However when a strange evil entity invades the neighbors’ home Ben begins to suspect something is amiss when the neighbor kid goes missing leading him and Mallory to attempt to get the bottom of the mystery before the small town becomes a mass grave at the hands of the evil Wretch.
I’ll say this about the movie, it hooked me in right from the start with one of the most unsettling openings of the year. I mean I had to pause the movie after the first few minutes just to take in what I saw from the disturbing imagery to the sound design used to present the brutality behind a closed door. After that though “The Wretched” goes down hill into more generic horror territory. It’s very clear that this film is meant to emulate the summer camp or “Rear Window”-esque features that have littered the past few decades of the horror genre and it doesn’t really do much to reinvent or freshen up these ideas. It has a solid start but quickly ends up bogged down with Ben’s unconvincing relationship with his father, the seemingly required examination of the dawn of a teen’s sex drive, and a jumbled narrative structure that feels too rushed and somehow too sluggish at the same time. It doesn’t take long before we start to see the supernatural elements take hold but it does take a while before the creep factor starts to come into play leaving much of the film’s 95-minute run time more of a waiting game for the next effective jump scare, and if I’m being honest there are a few truly creepy moments that pay off so the film has that going for it.
What’s more frustrating to me though is that the film has a solid final act to compliment it’s solid start where all hell breaks loose, a fun twist is revealed and we’re left with a cliffhanger that makes us question whether or not there was a happy ending. We also get to see a showdown with the Wretch that is sufficiently suspenseful and engrossing. The problem is the journey from the awesome opening to the fun conclusion is tedious, jumbled and does little to help teach us what we really need to know about either Ben or the Wretch. It has its moments, but the core of the movie, pretty much the entire second act, fails to do anything effective or fun with any of the story’s ideas or the familiar tropes the filmmakers decided to employ. I get that this movie was probably meant to be a mixed bag of clichés attempting to remind viewers what we loved about horror in the 80s but the final result fails to be anywhere near a cohesive homage.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, these straight-to-streaming or on-demand horror releases continuously feel like they belong on these platforms. Other genres have proven to be more inventive and inspired in spite of the smaller scale release format, but once again we have a horror movie that means well but just doesn’t get the job done settling for an ineffective and safe mix of tropes and clichés to satisfy a viewership looking for endless variations of the same idea. Apparently, there’s a market for that, who knew (he said with sarcasm). Thanks to its more enjoyable qualities though I wouldn’t write off “The Wretched”. There’s a lot of room for improvement: the acting isn’t where it need to be, the second act is tedious and boring, and the pacing is all over the place, but I can submit that I found it to be a creepy premise with a beginning and end worth experiencing. It’s just too bad that all the good parts make up barely a half hour of the film’s total run time.
“The Wretched” has its spooky moments and should be credited with having a solid start and an entertaining finish as well as a fun twist and thought provoking final moment that forces viewers to question the truth. That right there is what makes this movie worth watching. If the rest of the film were that interesting, inspired, or unsettling it would have been awesome. As frustrated as I was with this movie as a whole it was an easy viewing and one of the better on-demand horror releases I’ve experienced during this quarantine even if that’s a very low bar to meet. My final say is this was a promising movie that knew what it wanted to be and starts and ends things off on the right foot. Sadly it fails to keep its balance all the way through resulting in an ultimately high-end mediocre final product.