I’m surprised that The Dark and the Wicked came “from the writer and director of The Strangers” (Brian Bertino). It’s different in every possible way, from the style and tone to the casting choices. It’s for the better.
But I’m never watching this again. As someone who struggles with depression, anxiety and (CW: SH, suicide), I don’t think I’m able to watch repeat a viewing of this. That said, I think the film stays on the right side of exploiting mental health trauma for spooks, a cheap trap that, sadly, even the better horror films let themselves into. But it will still be tough and possibly triggering viewing for most.
Our story is thus: Two siblings (Marin Ireland and Michael Abbott Jr) visit their parents’ home in rural Texas. Their father (Michael Zagst) is ill, bed-bound; a nurse (Lynn Andrews) and their mother (Julie Oliver-Touchstone) care for him. An uncomfortable situation already looking bleak, the siblings also start suffering from strange visions amid a creeping sense of increasing dread that something is very, very wrong in the house.
That last paragraph might be reason enough for anxiety-sufferers to steer clear (or, at least, view with caution), because the sense of dread never lets up. There are no light-hearted breaks for reconnecting through picnics or reminiscing via old family photos. Every frame of this southern gothic film is slowly crushed by the insidious dread of the pervasive, threatening, lingering spectre of grief, grounded in a situation that many viewers might find by turns familiar and upsetting: the illness of a parent. Maybe that’s enough to set the tension in motion.
But, for me, the type of violence and gore and how it was executed each time was also too much for me. It’s perfect for the film, but it was too intense for just me. I think that, if I hadn’t been so exhausted from crying, it might have affected me in a negative way that would have upset those close to me. Hopefully that’s coming off as a compliment to the filmmakers for a job well-done.
If you do decide to watch the film, knowing of course that this indeed a slow-burn, high on mood and atmosphere rather than story/action, try to go in blind (aside from the content warnings). It’s not just frightening, but heartbreaking, too.