Bryan Bertino’s The Dark & The Wicked

Bryan Bertino’s The Dark & The Wicked is very dark and very wicked indeed, and as bleak, hopeless and suffocating as a horror film could be. This is a film whose narrative fairly simple and let’s the complexities come out in performances and atmosphere while the story itself is as stark and ragged as the Texas farmland it takes place on. This is one of those drab, rundown farms where tired, rusted equipment lays strewn carelessly, the barns have long since shed their paint, it’s somehow perpetually dusk and the animals scatter about their paddocks nervously, clearly freaked out by something only they can see. The farm is owned by a family, and the father (Michael Zagst) is dying of some unnamed terminal illness but has unwittingly also been possessed by a particularly nasty demon who is making life hell for the rest of the family. I don’t say that lightly either, this is one seriously mean, horrifically malevolent entity who torments this poor clan (and by proxy the audience) no end when they’re already at their weakest and doesn’t relent until they’re thoroughly broken and ruined. The aging mother (Julie Oliver Touchstone) begins to lose her head and get delusional while her son (Michael Abbott jr) and daughter (Marin Ireland) try to hold the family and the homestead together by a thread against the onslaught of visions, hauntings, attacks and intimidation from this entity. There’s also an archaic preacher played by the great Xander Berkeley who is not much help to anyone and seems to be just as spooky as the demon itself as he unloads additional portent onto these already suffering folks. Bertino is also responsible for the 2008 horror classic The Strangers and he brings the same sense of trapped desperation and fading hope he did there, obviously with a much more illusory antagonist than masked killers. Ireland is a terrific actress who already made vivid impressions in Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman and this year’s criminally under-seen The Empty Man, she’s once again utterly immersed, convincing and committed to her role here, conveying anguish and impending loss to chilling effect. There’s an impossibly creepy strings score by Tom Schraeder that piles on a lot of atmospheric mood too. This is a slow burn, psychologically taxing, wretchedly bleak piece of American gothic terror that’s impressively made in every arena and will give seasoned horror vets a case of the spoops. Great film.

-Nate Hill

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