Dealing with a dying loved one is difficult enough, but when mental health, family bonds, and grief get side-swept with the supernatural, you get Bryan Bertino’s The Dark and the Wicked.
Louise (Marin Ireland) joins her brother Michael (Michael Abbott Jr.) at their family home to help their mother (Julie Oliver Touchstone) look after their dying father, and they want to support her on their sheep farm. Their mother isn’t happy they have come to help, telling them to leave in frustration, but lets them know her request isn’t what they think. The next day, they find a gruesome scene in the kitchen and their dead mother hanging in the barn. Over the next week, Louise and Michael must come to terms with not only their grief but the idea that there is something sinister plaguing their family with relentless vigor, testing their sanity and beliefs all at once.
Bertino, known for writing and directing The Strangers in 2008, shows his horror skills in quietly introducing terror in the most innocuous things like a sheep farm or an old school landline. He uses devices like wolf howls that hail to horror classics, but it still feels new and adds an eerie foreboding on the isolated farm.
There are quite a few jump scares, but they’re effective and only add to the nail-biting dread. You feel for the siblings trying to wrap their heads around a demonic entity bent on harming their family while managing a terrible situation. I enjoyed most the organic performances, from film and TV veteran Xander Berkeley as the priest to the nurse played by Lynn Andrews, who keeps her faith even in the worst situation possible and the great chemistry Ireland and Abbott Jr. had as siblings.
What struck me was the mix of emotions the family went through, but they weren’t the faithful type you usually see in a supernatural film. Marin mentioned that the lack of faith or religious belief within the family unit left them anchorless and vulnerable to this supernatural attack during the Q and A. There was no bond for them to cling to, and there was a sense of hopelessness and helplessness watching the family succumbing to grief, the inevitable and forces beyond their control. Their lack of community only amplifies how isolated they are as a family and as individuals.
The Dark and the Wicked will be available on-demand in November if you missed it at Fantasia, so it’s worth adding to your future spooky viewing list.