Fantasia Film Festival’s ominous The Dark And The Wicked is certainly a horror film that delivers on the promise of its title in spades, as it turned out to be a highly effective and enjoyable, unrelentingly bleak, dark and incredibly wicked, as in mean-spirited, haunted house-esque horror from Bryan Bertino.
As a domestic drama The Dark And The Wicked is grisly enough. Siblings Louise (Marin Ireland) and Michael (Michael Abbott Jr.) return to the home of their parents to help their mother (Julie Oliver-Touchstone) care for their terminally ill and bedridden father. But they quickly learn that something darker and more evil than the father’s might be circling the family.
The film then plays out like a haunted house horror. Set on a secluded farm in the middle of nowhere, it has all of the atmosphere and rural isolation that permeated Robert Eggers’ The Witch, with a deliberate scarcity in lighting. It has many classic horror elements to invoke dread like the inherent creepiness of the mother, who is clearly haunted by something, the constant rattles of the chimes designed to keep the farm’s goats in, constant appearances of black shadowy figures in the background and creepy mannequins to name just a few.
But all of these things are the tip of the ice-berg in terms of horror as our hapless brother and sister gradually begin to experience an endless and unrelenting series of supernatural activities that increase in severity, gruesomeness, horror and flat-out nastiness.
Bertino sets out his stall for this continuous meanness right at the beginning of the film when Louise and Michael’s mother is chopping vegetables. At this point we’ve already seen her do this previously in the film, so the constant close-up of her fingers signifies that the classic chopping accident is going to happen, and indeed it does. But then, Bertino exaggerates this, the camera doesn’t cut away, the mother doesn’t react, she just keeps chopping, cutting her severed fingers into smaller and smaller pieces. It’s brutal, it’s gruesome and from this point that’s exactly what we should expect.
This is because we learn that the family is fighting against an incredibly evil and malevolent force against which they are desperately outmatched, the devil himself, who has decided he wants the soul of the family’s bedridden father and will do anything he can to make sure the man dies alone so he can claim it. After all, as the family’s kind-hearted care worker explains, love can save a soul.
What follows is an hour of abject horror as Louise is haunted by her father, scaring her in the shower in a Psycho homage, and Michael keeps seeing his deceased mother. The phone doesn’t stop ringing; people keep turning up, only to reveal themselves as hallucinations, or the devil himself. The families’ isolation grows and anyone connected to the family or the house are eventually compelled to kill themselves in increasingly horrific ways, with the religious, happy and positive nurse, played by Lynn Andrews, getting a particularly protracted and cruel death, naturally.
With this villain the film really leans into its religious iconography and allegory. The family themselves are atheist, which certainly adds to the fact the devil chooses to take the form of a gleeful and prophetic vicar to taunt the family, one of many forms he uses to trick them throughout. There are constant allusions to goats and wolves, predator and prey, in fact, by appearing as a vicar, the devil himself is a ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’. By the time that the chimes put up in the goat barn to protect the livestock are inexplicably taken down we should’ve realised that the family was doomed.
The idea of being absolved of your sins, and carrying guilt is certainly one of the driving forces behind the film as both Louise and Michael struggle with the fact they weren’t around to help their mother with their father, as well as the guilt of their mother’s death and what to do with their father afterwards. For these crimes Bertino argues that they deserve their fate, with Michael apparently escaping, only for the horror to follow him to his absent-family’s home, which leads to one of the film’s particularly heart-breaking and shocking bait-and-switch reveals
I really am not kidding when I say The Dark And The Wicked is darkly atmospheric, unrelentingly cruel, incredibly heavy and constantly horrific, which might be too much for some. However, for those of you seeking out something truly twisted and genuinely scary, then boy, is this out-and-out horror film is for you! I was entertained from start to finish, I had a blast!
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