Almost everyone has had the experience of dealing with a bad neighbor but poor 17-year-old Ben’s situation is worse than most. Ben’s forced to go up against his creepy, evil neighbor…an ancient witch…in the 2020 horror film, The Wretched.
The film begins with Ben (John-Paul Howard), a rebellious teenager, on his way to stay with his father, Liam (Jamison Jones). He’s heading to his dad’s place for the summer to work at the local marina to learn discipline. Apparently, he’s been acting out after his parents’ separation.
Ben meets and quickly befriends Mallory (Piper Curda), who also works at the marina, as well as young Dillon (Blane Crockarell) – his neighbor’s son. He also makes a few enemies among the spoiled rich kids in the area who target Ben with their mean juvenile humor.
As if he didn’t already have enough issues to deal with, Ben begins to notice his dad’s neighbor, Abbie (Zarah Mahler), is acting strangely. One night after coming home late from the marina, Ben finds Abbie’s son Dillon hiding in his room, terrified. Dillon reveals Abbie’s acting scary and when Abbie shows up at the front door asking if Dillon’s inside, Ben lies and tells her he hasn’t seen him. Abbie’s facial expression and demeanor suddenly change and she threatens Ben, calling him a stupid child. Ben stands his ground and keeps the screen door locked until Abbie’s husband arrives and Dillon runs to him, saying he wants to go home.
Worried about Dillon’s safety, Ben begins spying on Abbie and her family. He also does some investigating on the internet after seeing a weird mark carved into the ground outside Abbie’s front door and discovers it’s the symbol of a thousand-year-old witch. Realizing the witch has taken over Abbie’s body, Ben sets out to try to save Dillon and protect his family – and Mallory – from the witch after realizing she’s onto him and is now after them as well.
The Wretched is a slightly effective horror film that’s creepy and suspenseful. Unfortunately, it becomes muddled when it loses track of the main plot while focusing on the main character’s various relationships. The film also seems to lean on ideas from some classic – and not-so-classic – suspense and horror films such as Rear Window, Sinister, and Lights Out.
John-Paul Howard is effective as Ben, the brooding and defiant teenager who’s already in over his head just trying to deal with his parents’ separation when he finds himself in a deadly fight with a thousand-year-old witch. Ben’s concern for his neighbor’s son and the fear of realizing no one will believe him as the witch starts to target his family makes his character likable and believable.
Zarah Mahler gives the best performance in The Wretched as first Abbie, the nature-loving mother to Dillon, and as the witch who’s taken over her body. Her body movements, demeanor, and facial expressions are truly disturbing and chilling.
The direction and pacing of the film is jerky and unbalanced, with writer/directors Brett Pierce and Drew T. Pierce going back and forth from the teenage angst and rebellion story to an eerie and menacing horror film. The film is strongest when it stays focused on the witch next door.
The Wretched is a mildly frightening, albeit forgettable, horror film that should give its audience a few goosebumps.
MPAA Rating: Not rated
Running Time: 96 minutes
Studio: IFC Midnight