THE WRETCHED (2020)
John-Paul Howard, Piper Curda, Jamison Jones, Azie Tesfai, Zarah Mahler, Kevin Bigley, Gabriela Quezada Bloomgarden
Directed by Brett Pierce and Drew T. Pierce
It’s a shame that most of the horror films that open in theaters these days are not very good. Ironically, now that theaters are shuttered, we get a really good one in the Pierce Brothers’ “The Wretched” which pays homage to the wonderful 1985 vampire-next-door film “Fright Night” and its 2011 satisfactory remake. The story revolves around a teenager named Ben whose parents are separated. After becoming a disciplinary problem for his mother, he’s sent to spend the summer with his dad at a small lakeside tourist resort. Ben begins noticing strange things about the couple living next door to his father and begins to investigate. People disappear, the woods seem haunted, and the supernatural takes over.
By all accounts, “The Wretched” harbors an 80s vibe that makes watching horror films from that decade so enjoyable so it’s logical that it opens during the time period. After a chilling prelude giving us a taste of things to come, the story begins in the present as Ben (John-Paul Howard), a rebellious teenager, is sent by his mother to spend the summer with his father Liam (Jamison Jones) in a small coastal tourist town where he begins working at the marina.
Like “The Lost Boys” and “The Goonies,” there are bullies for Ben to contend with and the love interest comes in the form of marina co-worker Mallory (Piper Curda), the nice girl competing for Ben’s attention against the local hot girl who dates the town jerk. Yes, we’ve seen all that before, but it provides the film with a lively spirit and helps to balance the fresh creep factor that comes in the form of a malevolent entity that lives in the woods. Erik Porn’s makeup effects combined with former Austin resident Marlena Feehery’s production design give the film a nightmarish element that’s sure to get under your skin.
“Rear Window” meets “Hansel & Gretel” as Ben starts spying on his millennial rental neighbors next door, particularly mom Abbie (Zarah Mahler) who begins acting strange. When the couple’s young son goes missing, Ben starts playing detective and eventually uncovers a dark secret as he comes face to face with the evil wreaking havoc on the community.
“The Wretched” is a throwback to well made horror films that evoke thrills and chills along the way. John-Paul Howard as Ben delivers a solid performance in his first lead role after starring in “Hell or High Water” opposite Chris Pine and on NBC’s “Midnight, Texas.”
(3 ½ stars)
Available On-Demand on several platforms