Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 24, 2020)
With a title like The Wretched, we get limited genres into which it’d fit. If you guessed “horror”, then congrats! You win nothing, as that becomes the obvious choice.
After his parents separate, teenaged Ben (John-Paul Howard) goes to live with his father (Jamison Jones). There he works at his dad’s marina, where he gets to know the local kids as well as his dad’s new girlfriend (Azie Tesfai).
These matters change before long, though, as Ben discovers an insidious secret at the neighbor’s house. An evil force takes control, and it appears only Ben can find a way to deal with this supernatural trauma.
Though both worked on animated series and other cinematic/TV endeavors, Wretched acts as just the second full-length effort from brothers Brett and Drew T. Pierce. Their only prior work came from 2011’s zombie flick Deadheads.
Because I never saw that 2011 film, I can’t judge it. Wretched doesn’t inspire me with a desire to view Deadheads, though, as it offers a pretty mediocre horror experience.
That doesn’t make it a bad flick, as it comes with enough energy to occupy the viewer. With a mix of scares and plot twists, it manages to maintain some interest.
However, Wretched also feels like a missed opportunity, partly because it seems unfocused. The film tries so hard to pack in so many genre elements and influences that it fails to coalesce into a particularly coherent project.
Boy, do we get a lot of influences here! Wretched feels like a melange of Blair Witch Project, Fright Night, The Witch, Lost Boys, Rear Window, Goonies, Poltergeist, Aliens and a bunch more movies that I forget right now.
In general, I’d say Wretched brings a pretty clear Spielberg influence, much more than expected. A look at the Blu-ray cover art you can see to the left paints Wretched as a dark, chilly affair, but that doesn’t prove true.
Instead, Wretched comes across as much perkier than I anticipated. Sure, it brings some moments of graphic violence, but these rarely elevate above the level of “PG-13”, and the general tone seems light.
This doesn’t really work, mainly because of the inconsistencies. The film bops from one influence to another with such alacrity, it fails to find a groove, and the variations in tone add to the problems.
Wretched telegraphs too much, partly because it doesn’t let the terror sneak up on us. This becomes a common trend with modern horror flicks, as they usually refuse to let themselves evolve gradually.
Producers appear to demand scares early, lest these films lose viewers eager for fright. Whatever happened to the Psycho model, the notion that a movie can seem to go one way and then veer another?
That would’ve worked well for Wretched. Build it as a standard teen coming of age tale – replete with the usual hijinks and summer love – before the film goes another way.
Instead, Wretched ensures that we know exactly how it’ll proceed from the start. This choice robs it of much natural tension.
As I mentioned, Wretched still manages to offer a watchable flick despite its flaws. It just doesn’t threaten to become anything above average.