Monster movies tend to stick to the old tried and true beasts of horror lore: vampires, zombies, demons, ghosts, and even a werewolf every now and then. But the one featured creature you rarely see addressed these days are witches. Now I’m not talking about broomstick flying, cackling witches who flaunt spells like spitballs and carry black cats, I’m talking old school; truly horrific and gruesome witches who feast on children and give you proper nightmares like the rest of those aforementioned Halloween horrors do. With a very brief plot description and an unusual looking poster, I wasn’t sure what “The Wretched” had to offer or what kind of setting or take on witches it would attempt. What I discovered was that there truly was more to this gruesome witch tale than I (and I think a lot of other people) gave it credit.
Struggling to deal with his parents’ divorce, Ben (John Paul Howard) goes to live/work with his dad (Jamison Jones) at the boat docks and tries to figure out how he’s going to deal with it. But things get complicated when he comes across a 1,000-year-old witch who murders a woman (Zarah Mahler) and then wears her skin like a suit. Now children are disappearing from the area and no one seems to remember them or know who they are. Ben and his new friend Mallory (Piper Curda) have to dig deeper and uncover the truth about this witch in order to save many lives and break whatever spell she has on this town and its people before it’s too late for the kids.
I didn’t really know what to expect from this movie, I expected less thrills, more slow-burn kind of stuff, and an older period setting with a more disturbing looking (albeit still traditional) kind of witch. I was pleasantly surprised to see “The Wretched” clearly has more to offer than you’d expect. Starting things off with a gruesome and chilling opening sequence, “The Wretched” displays inventiveness in utilizing the witch’s powers, how it moves, what it can do, and even keeps you guessing how many there actually might be. No jump scares are used here, just a good old fashioned creepy atmosphere and palpable tension that keeps you on the edge of your seat. You never know when or in what way the witch will appear and that keeps the surprises coming at you when you least expect it. I was definitely hooked on this.
Despite the horrific notion of witches murdering/eating people (especially young children), the film never gets too bloody and barf-inducing you want to stop watching but it leaves you with enough visible and unseen horrors that just the sounds and implications are enough to make your face cringe. The backstory is never fully explored and honestly, it doesn’t need to be. Were given enough to put the pieces together ourselves and it helps aid in the unpredictability in this witch’s powers and how she could appear next time you see her. In a way, this movie comes off as a more supernatural version of “Disturbia” or “Secret Window”; following the evil in question through the eyes of a curious teenager who keeps digging where he shouldn’t.
Sadly as a protagonist, Ben falls flat because well…he is flat. His uneasy feelings due to his parents’ divorce and his rebellious attitude don’t come off as interesting or even that sincere. He’s just kind of there personality-wise and while he has moments with Mallory (the most charming and delightful character in the movie I might add), he’s just not enough of a person to be engaging. The film’s pacing and abundance of surprising developments do more for the film than the cast ever does, though Zarah Mahler deserves recognition for doing a perfect 180 and turning into an absolutely terrifying and intimidating possessed victim. But back to the pacing, the film just moves along at a solid pace; never lingering too long or rushing off too quickly. Ben doesn’t do stupid cliché horror movie victim mistakes, he tries to play this wisely and even his father proves not all parents in horror films are disbelieving idiots and plays a significant role in wrapping things up in the climax.
Overall, “The Wretched” is a fresh bucket of blood for Halloween horror fans to sink their teeth into. Its lead character isn’t particularly deep and I feel our leading lady is criminally underused, but the scares are effective and chilling, the monster’s design and execution is superb and it kept me legitimately hooked and surprised from start until finish and I cannot recall the last time a had that level of investment in a horror movie. This is worth a watch, maybe even a couple of watches; definitely something different.
I give “The Wretched” 2 ½ stars out of 4.