“The Dark and the Wicked” would benefit from some light and some normal.
The sleepy horror movie is an onslaught of spooky images that, while well-done, are watered down by sheer abundance. We stop being scared after the first 15 minutes because there is nothing new to see.
Writer-director Bryan Bertino’s film is more about mood than story, with a thin plot in which two adult siblings (Marin Ireland and Michael Abbott Jr.) come home to see their dying father, whom their mom believes is being hounded by the devil. Right on the money, Ma.
The film’s first and most unsettling image — Mom chopping carrots before julienning her own fingers — comes too early on. From there, we’re deluged with creepy sequences with nary a pause between them, and as a result are quickly desensitized to the madness. Oh, another seemingly regular person stopping by who’s actually an evil spirit. What? The guy on the phone isn’t real? That priest has gray eyes. A ghost is slicing her forearms. “Have you noticed any changes since you arrived?” a doctor asks the siblings. “No!” I yelled back.
That’s because we never experience a moment’s peace from the offset. A place doesn’t seem increasingly haunted if its aesthetic baseline is “hellhole.” A glimpse of this family as happy and well-adjusted at the start would’ve given the movie a story arc, rather than a mood. Tom Schraeder’s music, which follows the tiresome trend of horror scores that sound like insect swarms, doesn’t help.
“The Dark and the Wicked” is lucky to have Ireland, however. An excellent New York stage actress, she’s done a lot of film and TV over the years, but not too many huge roles. Ireland should really be a bigger star, and she lifts this material with her genuine, turbulent feeling.
By the end, we look at these should-be frightening moments the same way we watch weirdos on the subway: Nothing to see here, folks.
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