This second film from writing-directing brothers Brett and Drew Pierce (Deadheads) can be crudely described as a nostalgia-riffing, gore-inflected Rear Window-meets-Fright Night. And while that sounds very promising on paper, the script needed a polish and the overall film only meets its potential halfway.
The Wretched sees Ben (John-Paul Howard) leaving the city to spend some time with his dad, amidst his parents’ divorce. As the days pass, he begins to suspect that the next-door neighbour might be possessed by a malevolent woodland spirit that has a penchant for child abduction. The demonic entity makes the unsuspecting victims of the small town forget about their younglings; once the children’s existence has been erased from their parents’ memories, the forgotten scamps become easy targets for all kinds of nastiness.
When you discard the title (which is as bland as it is irrelevant), this 80s-indepted chiller has a lot going for it, namely some very promising directorial flair. It’s slightly disheartening to think that this dark fairytale could easily have been so much more had the script just gone through one final draft session which could have seen useless subplots axed and the injection of significantly more characterisation for the lead protagonists, who are all too thinly sketched – thereby often unlikeable – for the audience to truly care. The Pierce brothers also could have mined the story for a challenging commentary about gender roles or offered a meditation on the figure of the neglectful parent. Still, for all its faults and missed opportunities, the third act’s twist lands nicely, as does the devilish Invasion of the Body Snatchers final sting in its tail, proving that the ending sometimes justifies the occasionally underwhelming means.
The Wretched Directed by Brett Pierce, Drew T. Pierce (US, 2020), with John-Paul Howard, Piper Curda, Jamison Jones, Zarah Mahler. Starts August 13.