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Indie supernatural horror thriller “The Wretched” is artistically triumphant

by Kevin O’Neil | A&E Editor

8/10

Horror – 1 hr. 35 min – Not rated

While the usual swathe of horror flicks is oversaturated with dystopias, excessive gore and zombie apocalypses (things that are probably not very tasteful during a pandemic) brothers Drew and Brett Pierce – co-directors and co-writers– bring something a little fresher to the table with their indie supernatural horror thriller “The Wretched.” This film features a local witch who brainwashes victims and munches on children.

“The Wretched,” follows a 17-year-old boy named Ben (John-Paul Howard) and how he interacts with and adapts to his family, his new job at a marina and the people he meets there and not to mention the neighbor he believes to be a witch.

The Michigan native’s primary motivation for making the film was to introduce something to stand out in a box office flooded with superhero movies and the occasional apocalyptic gorefest of a horror movie. The brothers wanted something new so they turned to their old influences and looked at the films they loved and also put a little piece of each of themselves in the story or cinematography, some intentional, some not.

They decided to make their own witch, complete with its own lore, rules and weaknesses. She loves to prey on children, luring them into her little hole in the woods. She can also walk among the common folk, wearing the skin of one of the local women. She’s also centuries old, using outdated feminine stereotypes to follow the role of wife, girlfriend or whatever person she might be wearing.

Symbolism of deer follows her everywhere, to connote her connection to nature. Her power resides in images of people, whether photograph or painted portrait; once she has her hands on an image of someone she wants, she has influence over everyone in the image.

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In terms of the plot, the film starts out rather slow; other than an opening flashback to an earlier instance of the witch’s exploits, the first 40 minutes or so are filled with vanilla worldbuilding, character building and exposition. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s just that upon the first watch it seems unremarkable.

The characters themselves are the more or less standard archetypes; the moody teenager in a broken family, the quirky divorced father who’s just trying his best, the father’s new girlfriend who’s trying to get on the teen’s good side, the teen’s sarcastic co-worker that he befriends, the hot beach girl and her jock friends who bully the protagonist, and finally the neighbor who the protagonist suspects is a witch.

Though after that initial slowness, things pick up *really* quickly; babies are eaten, people get brainwashed and bunnies go missing. Near the end, there’s also quite a plot twist that springs up; something so monumental that it shouldn’t be spoiled here. Let’s just say that there are hints of this particular plot element earlier on in the film; remember a few lines ago about the first 40 minutes being “seemingly” unremarkable?

Overall, this short indie film is really charming; it relies less on spectacle and more on subtlety. It’s a quilt of classic plot and design elements, stitched together to make something familiar and novel.

The Wretched premiered at the 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival and was released on video on demand and select drive-in theaters May 1, 2020.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, “The Wretched” managed to top the box office in its first two weeks of release.

For someone looking for things to watch during quarantine, this may be for you.

“The Wretched” is available for rent on Amazon Prime, Google Play and YouTube.

To learn more about the creative process of the Pierce brothers, please visit the Schoolcraft Connection YouTube channel for an interview.