One of the streaming titles to gain a lot of popularity since the beginning of the COVID-19-enforced lock-down is The Wretched, a supernatural horror film. Only playing on streaming platforms (including Amazon, Google Play, and YouTube) and some drive-in cinemas, the film has become a huge success due to a lot of big, blockbuster films that have been delayed. In fact, the film has become the first film since the 2018 superhero blockbuster, Black Panther to keep the top spot at the box office for 5 weeks.
The film focuses on a young teenage boy, Ben (John-Paul Howard), who moves back in with father, who he has been estranged with since his parents’ divorce. He begins to suspect that his next-door neighbour, Abbie (Zarah Mahler) is actually being possessed by an ancient witch, harming her family around her. With the help of his new friend, Mallory (Piper Curda), he must find a way to stop her from hurting him or his family.
From the outset, you can tell that the plot feels very inspired by the 1954 Alfred Hitchcock classic, Rear Window, in how Ben begins to spy on his neighbours, and begins to suspect that something is not quite right with them. In this scenario, Ben is James Stewart and his best friend, Mallory is Grace Kelly. It’s so similar in fact, that Ben is actually wearing a case throughout the film, having just broken his arm.
You could also compare the film to Disturbia, a 2007 thriller, which was essentially a rip-off of Rear Window, but instead, done from a more teenage perspective. This is essentially what this film does – it tells a Rear Window-type plot from a teenage perspective, but mixes it with more supernatural chills. In fact, the film owes more of a debt to kids’ films, like the fun 2007 animated movie, Monster House (in which young teenagers investigate their supernatural house next door) and the 2008 fantasy adventure, The Spiderwick Chronicles (in which a teenage boy and his siblings fight against demons and ghouls).
This is a little bit of a problem of the film, as is sometimes uncomfortably mixes teen angst and drama with genuine scares and chills. It is a similar problem that the recent film, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark in which it branded itself as properly scary horror film, but was also a movie that needed a primarily young target audience.
By extension, the feels like it should be a lot scarier than it is. There are certain sequences at the beginning that are quite chilling, like the actual monster itself, and seeing it appear subtly in baby monitors or the corner of Ben’s eye. It’s almost like seeing a teen version of Paranormal Activity at some points. However, it feels like it slightly abandons this after around half an hour, and the film trades in scary chills for more of an adventure, exciting thrill ride.
This is another problem about the film – is that sometimes there is just too much going on. Other than struggling to balance a variety of tones and target audiences, there is a lot of plots and story threads that the film is trying to go for. The film is about Ben, his development and his relationships, as well as dealing with the threat next-door, that turns into a supernatural threat.
There is also a large amount of characters and actors vying for screen-time. Although, it is definitely Ben’s story, other characters include his father, his father’s girlfriend, Mallory, her sister, Abbie, her family, and many more. Not only that, but on top of all of this, the film then tries to do 2 big twists at the end. It almost feels like the script was trying to be too ambitious and trying to do too many things, that it doesn’t end up that successful doing any of them.
That being said, the film is still very pacey and thrilling. The film is very well-directed by Brett Pierce and Drew T. Pierce. They might be a little out of their element directing a full-on, scary horror film, and would probably be better crafting more a children adventure film. However, saying that, they are still capable of making a movie that is fun, entertaining and exciting, with many thrills and some relatable and interesting characters.
Overall, The Wretched is a perfectly fine diversion. It isn’t perfect, and possibly needs a little bit of more work put into the script, and overall thought put into exactly what it wanted to be. However, saying that, if you are looking for a fun, pacey and thrilling horror movie, then you should definitely give this a watch.