THE DARK AND THE WICKED (2020)
Marin Ireland, Michael Abbott Jr, Xander Berkeley, Lynn Andrews, Julie Oliver-Touchstone, Tom Nowicki, Ella Ballentine, Mel Cowan, Michael Zagst
Directed by Bryan Bertino
Bryan Bertino isn’t messing around. The writer-director behind 2008’s home invasion thriller “The Strangers” sets his sights on a farmhouse in Texas that becomes a demonic stomping ground as a brother and sister battle the forces of evil. “The Dark and the Wicked” is scary as hell. What “Jaws” did for swimming and “The Evil Dead” did for renting a cabin, this horror masterpiece does for moving to the countryside. Scratch that off my bucket list.
Dallas native Julie Oliver-Touchstone plays the family matriarch who has her hands full tending to the farm’s sheep and taking care of her comatose husband David Straker (Michael Zagst). Her only respite is the caregiver (Lynn Andrews) who stops by to occasionally check in on David.
When adult children Louise (Marin Ireland) and Michael (Michael Abbott Jr.) arrive at the rural homestead in North Texas, their mother isn’t very welcoming — in fact, she warned them to stay away. But the estranged siblings, fearing their father is dying, have come to help or at least say their goodbyes.
Relying only on natural light, or the lack thereof, Bertino creates the perfect atmosphere for a haunting. The rural landscape is creepy already, especially at night, and Tom Schraeder’s daunting score keeps the tension on track. The scares in the film are real and I loved how CGI effects played no factor in creating the chilling atmosphere.
Once Louise and Michael arrive on the scene, they begin to notice peculiar things around the farm. The family has never been religious, but their mother carries around a bag full of small crucifixes. According to the caretaker, the sibling’s mother is often heard talking to someone in the house, and then there’s the creepy preacher (Xander Berkeley) that comes calling in the middle of the night, recalling memories of Reverend Henry Kane from the “Poltergeist” series.
Twelve years ago, Bryan Bertino impacted the horror scene with the impressive debut “The Strangers” and over the years he continued to forge ahead in the genre with “The Blackcoat’s Daughter” and “The Monster.” With “The Dark and the Wicked”, he establishes his place as one of horror’s greatest assets. The demonic thriller passes “Hereditary” territory and heads straight for its preeminent predecessor “The Exorcist.”
(3 ½ stars)
Opens Friday, November 6 in Houston at Studio Movie Grille Pearland and Alamo Drafthouse LaCenterra. In San Antonio at Santikos Mayan Palace 14, Flix Brewhouse, Santikos Casa Blanca, Santikos Palladium IMAX, and Santikos Cibolo. Also opening at Alamo Drafthouse Corpus Christi.