The horror genre is one that has been long saturated with sub-standard films desperate to permeate the surface and frighten at least one person who finds themselves watching. The Wretched provides itself with all the correct framework in order to become an ominous and unsettling independent film within the genre, but for many reasons seems to stumble over its own feet at every hurdle presented. Even with two directors on board, Brett Pierce and Drew T. Pierce, it feels as though they still have much to learn when taking a disturbing screenplay and translating it onto the screen.

High-schooler Ben is struggling to come to terms with his parents’ divorce and goes to live with his Dad, and his Dad’s new girlfriend. He spends his days helping at a local boatyard mentoring the younger children on sailing, hanging out with one of his best friends and of course, noticing that the neighbouring family seem to be keeping secrets locked away in their basement. After monitoring the strange behaviour of the mother living next door, Ben comes to the realisation that a sinister entity has taken up residence within the woman’s skin and is hellbent on destroying the family by taking each member one by one. 

The casting for The Wretched gives space for some of the emerging talent which is out there, but also doesn’t spread a unity of consistent standard across the board. There is certainly some work to be done when it comes to the overall quality of acting throughout the film; some of the acting crumbles when it comes to presenting on-screen fear which is one of the key elements to creating a reputable and believable horror film. With unconvincing faces of terror and lacklustre screams even when blood is splattered, it really takes away from the sense of fear that could have been conceived with a little more realism. John Paul-Howard plays Ben and reconciles aspects of the film with his relatable performance and enticing pacing throughout the film – it’s easy to understand the plight he’s going through. Another performance that helps to push the film along comes from Zarah Mahler who plays Abbie, the mother next door. She’s a strong-willed and badass woman at the same time as being a dedicated mother, but once her body is inhabited we really see her execute this performance well.

The Wretched takes a haunting and exceptionally creepy concept, and brings it into the modern setting which easily helps the audience to connect to a long-used horror trope. A witch dwelling in the woods isn’t anything new to the genre, but this film allows her an opportunity to crawl from within the carcass she rests in and infiltrate blissful suburbia to feed upon the flesh of innocent families that have no idea what is even happening to them. The overall concept of the film has an amplitude of potential; a witch that wears the skin of one particular woman, whispers spells into the ear of the husbands and causes them and everyone around to forget the children they have, in order to feast on their pure viscera. Even though it doesn’t add anything groundbreaking to the age-old tale of witches and their unsavoury taste for the blood of young children, it does have some interesting ideas that could have really made the film something terrifying. 

Unfortunately, The Wretched doesn’t conjure up an atmosphere that delivers on the screenplay concept, and therefore leaves it feeling like a teenage drama rather than having tones of Robert Eggers’ The VVitch. It tries too hard to replicate what has already been done in films like Disturbia and The House At The End Of The Street, rather than focusing on the more horrific idea regarding this malevolent entity which wears the skin of someone else in order to eat their children. By running with this teenage theme throughout, it feels more like a really dark episode of Riverdale than it does anything like The Blair Witch Project. A lesson for Pierce and Pierce would be to always bring attention to the most horrific element of the story, especially when creating a film for fans of a genre that are used to seeing bodies being hacked apart.

There are some genuinely sinister moments throughout The Wretched that will make your skin shiver and blood curdle, with the use of practical effects that show the nightmarish creation brought to life. When these moments of terror creep through, it feels even more disappointing that the entirety of the film couldn’t sustain that feeling, otherwise it could have been a modern day favourite amongst those with a penchant for tales of witches. Unfortunately, the Pierce brothers couldn’t quite manifest this wicked tale into something more than another horror film that won’t quite capture the attention of the modern audience who are either looking for something powerful or something that keeps them awake at night. Even though the occultist horror dwells within, The Wretched never reaches its full potential to curse the audience. 

Rating: ★★

Directed by: Brett Pierce, Drew T. Pierce

Written by: Brett Pierce, Drew T. Pierce

Cast: John-Paul Howard, Piper Curda, Jamison Jones |