The Dark and the Wicked (2020) ☆☆☆(3/4): Something insidious at their family farm

“The Dark and the Wicked” is a simple but effective horror flick which distinguishes itself a bit with its suffocatingly insidious atmosphere. While its story promise is familiar to the core, the movie keeps holding our interest as steadily accumulating the creepy sense of fear and dread around its few main characters, and I enjoyed this process even though I could clearly discern its inevitable arrival point right from the very beginning.

The movie opens with presenting the isolated daily life of an old couple living alone in their remote rural family farm. The husband, who has been apparently very sick, is mostly unconscious on their bed while waiting to die sooner or later, and the wife usually takes cares of their house and those livestock animals in their farm for herself, unless she is assisted by her husband’s nurse or their sole farmhand guy. While it is clear to us that the wife has had a hard time due to the husband’s sickness, we come to gather that there is something strange around them, and that soon becomes quite evident when a small but very odd happening occurs around her when she is preparing the dinner at her kitchen.

The movie subsequently shifts its focus to the viewpoint of this old couple’s two adult children Louise (Marin Ireland) and Michael (Michael Abbott Jr.), who come to the farm for checking out their parents on one day. They are sincerely concerned about their parents, but they have been quite estranged from their parents since they left the farm and started to lead each own life many years ago, and they certainly feel some guilt and regret for neglecting their parents a lot during last several years.

At first, everything looks fine and normal to them except their father’s worsening health condition, but it does not take much time for both Louise and Michael to sense something bad around the farm, and the movie accordingly amplifies its creepy tone around them bit by bit. In case of one certain scene unfolded inside the house, it becomes a bit unnerving as we suddenly notice an unknown figure in the background, and then the level of suspense is dialed up step by step, or chop by chop, shall we say, till the eventual moment of shock and awe arrives in the end.

After this striking moment, the movie continues to disturb us as well as its two main characters, who subsequently learn more of what has been going on in the farm. It seems that there is a mysterious dark force hovering around the farm, and they cannot help but disturbed more as strange things keep happening around them. While Louise becomes more and more terrified of whatever is lurking somewhere around the farm, Michael tries to be sensible and rational, but he also finds himself quite unnerved by several ominous signs including a very disconcerting incident involved with one of those livestock animals in the farm (The end credits of the movie assures to us that no animal was harmed during its production, by the way).

As its two main characters get mired more in guilt, terror, and confusion along the story, director/writer/co-producer Bryan Bertino keeps delivering spooky scenes to engage and chill us more. There is a brief but undeniably chilly moment when our two main characters come to a certain place for handling their little family matter, and I also like one creepy moment associated with the telephone in the house. In case of a certain supporting character suddenly appearing out of nowhere, this character gives some explanation on what is really going on around our two main characters, but there is also something untrustworthy about this character, and you may wonder more about this character’s identity when Louise tries to contact with this character later in the story.

When it goes for full horror mode during the last act, the movie comes to lose some of its tension, but it still holds our attention thanks to Bertino’s competent direction, and it wisely sticks to its mostly restrained mode while not revealing too much to us. Yes, we certainly get more shock and terror during the expected climatic part, and these moments are all the more shocking and disturbing as dryly presented on the screen except Tom Schraeder’s moody score on the soundtrack.

Although the ending feels weak with a little too many loose ends, the movie still works to some degree as a horror tale about family relationship, and it is also supported well by the convincing performances from its main cast members. While Marin Ireland carries well several intense key scenes which depend a lot on her acting, Michael Abbott Jr. ably complements her as required, and several supporting performers in the film including Lynn Andrews, Xander Berkeley, Tom Nowicki, and Julie Oliver-Touchstone are effective in their respective small roles.

I did not like Bertino’s first feature film “The Strangers” (2008) mainly because of its barebone narrative going nowhere before predictably arriving in its hollow predictable finale, but that film showed Bertino’s considerable competence as a burgeoning filmmaker at least, and I was certainly glad to see him moving onto his second feature film “The Monster” (2016) later, which is inarguably a better film in many aspects. Although “The Dark and the Wicked” does not surpass what was accomplished in “The Monster”, the result is definitely more satisfying than “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” (2021), so I mildly recommend you to give it a chance someday.

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