[THE WRETCHED opens in Ravenna, OH on Friday May 22nd at the Midway Drive-In Theatre.]
Review by Bob Ignizio
In ordinary times, a movie like THE WRETCHED would likely have had a few late night screenings in select markets before going on to digital, where it would have had a hard time getting noticed amidst all the other low budget horror offerings. But with the Covid-19 pandemic completely upending the normal patterns of movie distribution, and major studios either holding back their releases or sending them straight to digital, a niche has opened for low to mid budget films to play theatrically at drive-in theaters (and apparently a few indoor screens in states that have relaxed social distancing rules).
It is thanks to this unique set of circumstances that THE WRETCHED, a modestly budgeted horror film from writers/directors Brett and Drew T. Piece, finds itself at the top of the box office charts, taking in around $300,000 since opening May 1st on 11 drive-in screens. This Friday it expands to a few more locations, including the Midway Drive-In in Ravenna, OH. It’s also available to watch at home on the streaming platform of your choice.
That’s an interesting backstory for the film, but what really matters is whether it’s worth watching, pandemic or no. The answer is… kinda? Let’s just get to the review.
After a short (and ultimately unnecessary) flashback sequence set in 1985, we find ourselves in the present. Our protagonist is Ben (John Paul-Howard), a troubled and not immediately likeable teen who has been sent to spend the summer with his dad Liam (Jamison Jones) while his parents are going through a divorce.
Liam runs a campground, and hires Ben to help out around the docks. That’s where he meets Mallory (Piper Curda), an outgoing girl who takes a shine to Ben. There’s also a group of stereotypical “rich kids” who hang out at the docks, and of course Ben is more interested in one of the girls in that group.
But a generic love triangle is the least of Ben’s problems. His next-door neighbor Abbie (Zarah Mahler) is acting really strange, to the point that her son Dillon (Blane Crockarell) is scared of her, even if Dillon’s dad Ty (Kevin Bigley) seems oblivious to anything being off. Ben, who continues spying on his neighbors REAR WINDOW style, is the only one who has any idea what’s going on. But will he be able to convince anyone else before it’s too late?
While I have no idea if the Pierce Brothers were familiar with Scott Snyder and Jock’s Wythches, it seems that they’ve utilized some of the same folklore and mythology as that comic book series. As with the comic, this gives the film a nice flavor of ancient rustic horror offset against the modern world. And with the plot being fairly standard issue, having that element helps the film stand out more than it might have.
There are no “big” stars in the film, but the cast is solid, and most of them have considerable TV and film experience, even if they aren’t household names. As for the brothers Piece, they show they can make a polished, enjoyable film on a modest budget. And not that there’s anything wrong with campy/cheesy horror, it’s nice to see a movie that just wants to be scary and suspenseful and doesn’t feel the need to constantly wink at the audience. It would be nice if the brothers had a more distinctive style, and/or had imbued their plot and characters with a bit more originality. But if you’re just looking for an effective, meat and potatoes horror movie, THE WRETCHED fits the bill.