On a secluded farm in a nondescript rural town, a man is slowly dying. His family gathers to mourn, and soon a darkness grows, marked by waking nightmares and a growing sense that something evil is taking over the family.

Cast: Marin Ireland, Michael Abbott Jr, Julie Oliver-Touchstone, Lynn Andrews, Tom Nowicki, Michael Zagst, Xander Berkeley

Directors: Bryan Bertino
Writers: Bryan Bertino

The first fifteen-twenty minutes of The Dark and the Wicked are a slow burn of dread. It’s an utterly off-putting atmospheric tension, and the overall bleakness cannot be understated. These first few scenes reminded me of Robert Eggers and Ari Aster’s recent films like The Lighthouse and Midsommar, respectively. 

The camera moves through a farmhouse where goats are visibly disturbed by whatever is in the air. Inside we meet The Mother (Julie Oliver-Touchstone) who’s standing by the Father’s bedside (Michael Zagst). He’s a dying man and his last few weeks lay ahead of him. But it’s more than the feeling of impending death that lies beyond each frame; there’s a sensation of something more powerful and evil behind each scene. The house is empty but seems like it’s being held hostage. 


When the morning comes, so do the children. Lousie (Marin Ireland) and Michal (Michael Abbott Jr.) arrive at their secluded family home to help their Mother and Father. It doesn’t take them too long to sense it also, the sensation of something being worse than just death knocking at the door, and Louise asks the obvious, “what’s wrong with Mum?” 

About fifteen-to-twenty minutes into The Dark and the Wicked a horrible event occurs that spirals the rest of the film into more familiar territory. Not to say it’s bad, but the film is at its best in the opening chapter where it builds to a genuinely horrific scene. What follows is a more generic film built on jump-scares and whispers in the dark. None of these scares gets the time to develop and earn their shocking pay-off like the film’s opening. 

Writer/Director Bryan Bertino is the director of 2008’s The Strangers, an underrated terror film set entirely in one house. Setting a movie on a farm in the middle of nowhere isn’t exactly breaking new ground for Bertino, and his experience shows as he produces new ways to spook and shock us from scene-to-scene. 

As the film progresses and the eerie events build to a crescendo, it becomes increasingly apparent there are larger forces at play. But similar to last year’s Relic or movies like Ari Aster’s Hereditary, the focus here is on the characters dealing with very human emotions; in this case, the process of grieving. Marin Ireland and Michael Abbott Jr’s two strong performances are central to the film’s success, in that you care for them and understand their pain, fear, and suffering beyond the spooky house. 

The Dark and the Wicked is one of the bleakest horror films I’ve watched in some time. From the opening shot to the final scene, it offers little in the way of hope. It may not land the otherworldy sickness that some of the other films I’ve mentioned do or the equivalent character work, but it sure does try to get close. For those seeking punishment and a fight with the devil, The Dark and the Wicked will deliver. 

The Dark and the Wicked is streaming on Shudder from February 25th.


(The Dark and the Wicked screener provided for review)