There’s something about fear of the unknown in the horror film that makes it scary. A sense of foreboding dread that gives us goosebumps. Among the film that ticked all the aforementioned boxes are Bryan Bertino’s The Dark and the Wicked, a horror film that blends supernatural and home invasion of sorts. The latter, of course, evokes Bertino’s engaging directorial debut in The Strangers (2008).
In his latest film, the story follows Louise (Marin Ireland) and her brother Michael (Michael Abbott Jr.) returning to their family farm to spend the remaining days with their dying, bedridden father (Michael Zagst). However, their mother (Julie Oliver-Touchstone) warned them not to come, suggesting something is not right. And there’s more, as Louise and Michael find themselves experiencing something sinister that terrorises both of their family and the farmhouse.
Bertino, who also wrote the screenplay, relies heavily on mood minus the expository-heavy scenario to tell his story. It works in many ways, beginning with the film’s dread-inducing atmosphere from the get-go and a few grisly, yet graphically-violent moments. The latter sees Bertino pulling no punches, with shocking scenes involving the knife and knitting needles worth mentioning here.
He even made good use of the ominous sound design and its limited setting that takes place mostly in and around the family farm, which was actually filmed at the director’s property. Coupled with Tom Schraeder’s eerie score and Tristan Nyby’s atmospheric cinematography, The Dark and the Wicked scores high on the technical level.
Both of the story’s minimalistic and ambiguous approach might be a turn-off for some viewers, particularly how vague the unseen forces of evil chose to haunt the family in the first place. Themes of fear and grief are injected into the film as well, covering both literal and metaphorical manners but Bertino’s overall barebones storytelling isn’t exactly his strongest suit. And yet, the film’s aforementioned technical prowess on both psychological and visual tension offers enough compensation to send shivers up your spine.
It also helps that the film benefits from Marin Ireland and Michael Abbott Jr.’s above-average performances. While Abbott Jr. deserves praise for his solid supporting turn, it was Ireland who impresses me the most. She shows great restraint in her emotionally draining, yet vulnerable portrayal of a daughter trying to make sense with the strange going-ons surrounding their parents and the farmhouse.