Animosity or anxiety towards our neighbors has long been an American tradition, so it’s no surprise that horror films have often utilized this trope.
Films like Rear Window, and its blatant ripoff Disturbia come to mind. The Wretched takes this premise, and attempts to spice things up with a supernatural twist. But it’s more than just your ordinary horror film.
Given the current pandemic, this movie was actually the top at the box office, as it was playing at a handful of drive-in theaters that are still operating. Is it worth all this hype? Let’s find out.
Not Your Typical Summer
Our protagonist Ben (John-Paul Howard) is already having a tough enough time dealing with his parents divorce, when he “gets” to spend the summer with his dad at a vacation house, along with his new girlfriend.
Ben’s only real outlet is working at the marina and developing a crush on his coworker Mallory (Piper Curda). At first, the only conflict comes from a preppy clique of bullies, who look down upon Ben, most likely because they’re rich and popular and why not?
Next door however, things get strange when Ben’s neighbor Abbie (Zarah Mahler) isn’t quite the same after a hike with her young son. Children start disappearing from town, and oddest of all, their families seem to have no memory of them.
Ben suspects Abbie, and starts prying, which only gets him in trouble with his father, and the law. He struggles with whether or not he truly needs mental help, or if his convictions are right.
Part of what makes gives The Wretched its level of creepiness is just how unsettling Zarah Mahler’s performance is as Abbie, or should we say, the spirit possessing her. She has a great tendency to be super friendly, almost too much so that it seems fake.
Then at the drop of a hat, she gets downright sinister. It’s a really fun and scary performance that honestly isn’t featured as much as you’d want it to be.
To be fair, when you show your scary villain too much, it does make them less frightening (look no further than Sinister 2).
That said, it does feel like the villain in this film was used too infrequently. Just a little bit more screen time would have been better. Which brings us to the film’s primary issue.
Not Horror Enough?
Unlike most other genres, horror is the only one that essentially has to “trick” its audience for the first act into thinking it’s a different kind of movie. Some will open with a scare or a kill, but for the most part, there is a tonal shift when the true horror begins.
Some movies feel like they do complete 180 degree spins (From Dusk Till Dawn), and some films (like The Wretched), it feels as if the shift was incomplete.
Granted, the final 10 minutes deliver (for the most part), but for the majority of the movie, it seems more like a summer teen drama/comedy than a horror film.
People who are fans of that subgenre will probably enjoy the movie even more for it. But if you’re just looking for horror, you may bit a tiny bit disappointed.
Still, The Wretched boasts great performances, a likeable, relatable main character, and some genuinely creepy scenes.
Were it not for the pandemic, it probably wouldn’t have made it to the top of the box office, but the fact that an indie horror film pulled that off is really cool!
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