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the dark and the wicked

Fantasia 2020

[Fantasia] ‘The Dark and the Wicked’ review: The scary and the familiar

Familiar scares can work.

Horror movies have been willing to become more personal over the years. More often than not characters were very surface level in previous years. There was the promiscuous one, the jock, the final girl. Characters had little depth and the extent of their home lives were defining them as “good” or “bad”. (This is still the case now, though greater efforts are made to make well rounded characters.)

The awesomely named The Dark and the Wicked starts off as a very intimate horror movie. Louise and Michael return to their childhood home to be with their dying father. Very quickly, it becomes clear their mother wishes they did not come back to the secluded farm. Strange things soon begin happening as the two siblings soon realize something evil is in their parents’ farm.

Early on, the movie seems like it is going to delve into an estranged family. Louise and Michael’s mother repeatedly reminds them they should not have come home. Every scene involving the three is filled with tension. This hangs throughout The Dark and the Wicked. Louise and Michael have a delicate relationship. Though they are trying to get through the various hardships together, there is always the sense everything can fall apart at any moment.

These moments add depth to the story. Which is why it is a shame writer and director Bryan Bertino pivots away from this story point. The Dark and the Wicked soon becomes a basic horror story. All the familiar tropes are here. There are jump scares, bugs crawling out of mouths, and a creepy priest. There is even a neat take on the vegetable cutting scene. 

[Fantasia] 'The Dark and the Wicked' review: The scary and the familiar

Just because a movie is familiar does not mean it’s bad – especially in this genre. The Dark and the Wicked delivers effective scares. The religious aspects of the story add a layer of fear that has been a part of horror stories since the earliest folk tales. Little may be new, but it is frightening. The sound design is also terrific. Strings and pianos add to the rural loneliness. When there is not scary music, there are guttural grunts and strange voices. The Dark and the Wicked never gives its audience a reprieve.

A standard horror movie can still be worthwhile. The Dark and the Wicked initially seems like it is going to be a quiet story. While it never completely steers away from the family drama, it becomes more formulaic. This does not make it bad, but one cannot help but feel like so much more could have been done. The Dark and the Wicked is making its international premiere at the Fantasia Film Festival.

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