Fantasia 2020: ‘The Dark and the Wicked’ Review: A Fear Fest of Family Tragedy

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Bryan Bertino is no stranger to the horror genre, making a name for himself with the well-known horror film The Strangers (2008). He wrote and produced the sequel to that film, and also produced The Blackcoat’s Daughter. His newest directorial effort, The Dark and the Wicked, offers a feast of horrors. Jump scares, intense music, and shocking imagery fill this family-centered story that will definitely leave you freaked out — if you’re prone to classic horror tricks. 

Siblings Louise (Marin Ireland) and Michael (Michael Abbott Jr.) can feel that something is wrong as soon as they arrive at their family farm. They have returned home because their father is gravely ill, and their mother is not handling it well. Almost as soon as they return, their mother commits suicide. Michael chooses to ignore the strange circumstances surrounding her death while Louise is compelled to find answers. Because they feel obligated to stay as their father slowly dies, Louise and Michael experience escalating horrors that lead to grave circumstances neither of them can escape. 

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At the center of the film is the looming death of the family’s father. Waiting around for someone to die is a cruel facet of life, but one that many of us will experience. Bertino utilizes this oppressive truth to inject dread and fear into the soul of the film. By elevating this realistic situation through the guise of supernatural horror, the film explores how grief and death take a toll on family members, as well as how punishing the death of a family member can be. 

It is this very fear that leads to their downfall, as the family’s despair is an opening for an evil entity. As their father’s condition worsens, the insidious events increase. Experiencing the brunt of these situations is Louise, who is more concerned about the odd circumstances of their mother’s death than Michael. She investigates further by reading her mother’s diary, which has nightmarish descriptions of something coming for their father. The entire family begins to fall apart as a result of the hauntings. Louise pleads with Michael to believe her; he eventually does, but it is too late. 

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Bertino inflicts these horrors on the audience in familiar fashion, but at least he doesn’t waste his time getting to them. The scares start early and never let up, although the similar manner in which they are delivered can grow tiresome. Each jump scare is accompanied by loud, intense music, meant to surprise the viewer. There is ominous imagery that is far from original, but can still manage to send a shiver down someone’s spine. Unsurprisingly, one of the scariest moments is not the cheap ‘pop out’ trick, but a moment when Louise reads an excerpt from her mother’s diary out loud to Michael. Describing the evil entity they face through words, but not showing it to the audience, allows us to imagine something darker than any CGI monster. 

The horror genre is perfect for exploring realistic fears within a heightened environment in order to come to terms with them. Bryan Bertino definitely knows how to deliver a scare, though his methods are heavy-handed throughout most of the film. However, if you’re someone who is affected by these elements, you will certainly find this a scary one. The Dark and the Wicked is not only a film full of scares, but also an affecting commentary on death.


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