The Wretched review: Creepy, smart horror
Cool effects work8
Matthew Turner | On 08, May 2020
Director: Brett Pierce, Drew T. Pierce
Cast: John-Paul Howard, Piper Curda, Zarah Mahler
Watch The Wretched online in the UK: Sky Cinema / NOW TV / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store
The second feature from writer-director duo Brett Pierce and Drew T. Pierce (billed as The Pierce brothers), The Wretched is a genuinely creepy and sharply written teen horror that deserves to find a wide audience. At first glance, it’s the tale of a not particularly scary-sounding tree spirit, but audiences prepared to dig deeper will find there’s much more going on under the surface.
After a scary 80s-set prologue in which a babysitter makes a gruesome discovery in her neighbours’ basement, the film switches to the present day, where 17 year old Ben (John-Paul Howard) has come to spend the summer with his soon-to-be-divorced father Liam (Jamison Jones) at the lakeside resort community where he works. Right away there’s tension, as Ben has clearly been acting up at home due to his parents’ separation and he’s angry to discover that his father has already moved on and is dating someone else.
However, Ben soon has a multitude of other problems to worry about, as he grows increasingly suspicious of the hipster parents (Kevin Bigley and Zarah Mahler) in the house next door. When their young son Dillon (Blane Crockerell) disappears and they deny ever having had children, Ben suspects a malevolent creature has possessed the mother, eaten the children and cast a spell of forgetfulness on the father. The trouble is, as a teen with a bad track record, no one will believe him.
The lack of well-known actors in the film works in its favour as it means that you’re never quite sure who is safe. John-Paul Howard makes a likeable lead as Ben and he sparks fun teen chemistry with co-star Piper Curda as Mallory, a co-worker who doesn’t exactly believe him but helps him investigate anyway. Mahler is genuinely disturbing as the possessed mother and Azie Tespai adds sympathetic layers to Sara, Ben’s father’s well meaning new ladyfriend.
The Pierce brothers’ direction is assured throughout. Crucially, they know their way around a suspense sequence, as well as a thing or two about the deployment of jump scares. On top of that, the effects work is excellent – the tree-spirit crawls inside the skin of its victims, which should give you some idea of what to expect there – and is augmented by some superb sound effects. The result is a genuinely creepy and unsettling atmosphere, with the Pierces withholding certain information until the optimum moment.
What really makes the film stand out is the smartly conceived subtext, with the plot keying into Ben’s subconscious fears about his mother being replaced (the tree-spirit he discovers on the internet is known as a “dark mother”) and about children being forgotten. The film also cleverly plays on coming-of-age tropes with Ben’s struggle to find someone to believe him.
There are several nice touches scattered throughout the film, from the comedic use of a website called Witchypedia to genre savvy echoes of a number of films, ranging from Rear Window and Jaws to Invasion of the Body Snatchers and all manner of raunchy teen comedies.
The Wretched is an efficiently paced, smartly directed teen horror that delivers a creepy cocktail of suspense, chills and scary visuals. As a follow-up to their debut feature Deadheads, it marks out The Pierce brothers as a genre talent to watch and it will be fascinating to see what they come up with next.
The Wretched is available on Sky Cinema. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW TV, as part of an £11.99 Sky Cinema Month Pass subscription.