The Wretched (2020) review: this horror throwback is a most pleasant surprise

The horror hit which has thrived in a time of crisis, thoroughly deserves its hard-earned success.

2020 has not been an easy year on cinemagoers, in fact it has been the worst since some of the earlier days of the medium. Still, despite the disappointed sighs that have grown among audiences when hearing another much anticipated film has been delayed further, there has been some plucky films that have thrived at this time of panic. Many of these films have been ones which have solely enjoyed huge VOD success (Netflix’s Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, Trolls World Tour) but Brett and Drew T. Pierce’s (known and credited collectively as The Pierce Brothers) horror film The Wretched, is a film which has indeed hit VOD but also cinemas, doing particularly well at select drive-ins Stateside, as it topped the box office six weekends running. The first since Avatar to do so (obviously with wildly different box office takings). And little wonder too, because The Wretched is a film perfect for a drive-in experience and a brilliant throwback horror flick.

The story concerns teenage lad Ben (John Paul-Howard), as he comes to stay with his father (Jamison Jones) for a while and works with him at the local marina, as his divided parents are seemingly heading for divorce. Things are uncertain but going as well as they can, until one night Ben catches sight of something in the neighbour’s garden. As the days pass it becomes clear that this thing has not only entered the neighbours premises but their home too and even their lives but will anyone believe Ben when he tells them his neighbours might be, quite literally, ‘bewitched’?

The Wretched is a film that really catches you off guard. As you settle in for a grey, gory and maybe even po-faced affair, and after a rather grisly taboo-breaking opening, the film opens out into something else entirely and it is all the better for it. This is a really well-crafted ‘80s style genre film, that has the feel of a Joe Dante picture and is reminiscent of Tom Holland’s cult classic Fright Night (and for that matter its rather good 2011 remake too).

The performances are mostly pretty darn good, with lead John Paul-Howard being the right side of likeable as Ben, who has some struggles already but well and truly finds himself walking on the dark side with this monstrous invader. While Piper Curda offers charismatic support as his co-worker-turned-friend Mallory, in a film with a very youthful spirit but a respect for horror traditions.

The Pierce Brothers’ script carries over the feel of the aforementioned, in that it marries the mythos of its chosen horror icon and playfully toys with it, instilling humour between the atmospheric beats of the story, with added lashings of some quite impressive old fashioned effects and gruesome/sinister cinematography by Conor Murphy. As well as a score by Devin Burrows which rolls with the tonal punches very well indeed.

It hardly re-invents the wheel and some of the classic elements are here and accounted for – douchey teen bullies, a boozy teen party, creepy basements and/or attics, something in the woods – but it is an effective horror story, with a particularly nifty twist. A twist which – unlike the infuriatingly poor The Turning – adds an interesting layer to an already entertaining watch. It also helps that, come the reveal of the film’s take on its chosen horror figure, the results are suitably icky, practically-driven and darkly grotesque in look.

The Wretched a cult film in the making I reckon and one well worth being entranced by!

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