ArtnewsPress : Launching this weekend via IFC’s genre label, IFC Midnight (for horror, sci-fi, etc), is the witch-next-door/coming-of-age mystery, The Wretched. It’s an earnest, interesting low-budget creepfest that combines a Goosebumps-style teen thriller with some of the grimier and gooier carnage of wood witch, baby-eating horror.For an indie film with no easily-recognizable players, The Wretched lands well. It looks good. It moves with energy and urgency. No cast member feels egregiously out of place or not quite ready for the screen. There’s even room for a noble-enough twist heading into the third act. And the film’s central hero, a troubled youth, Ben (John-Paul Howard), is an engaging protagonist.
As a moody rebel whose folks are more than willing to ignore once he starts making calamitous claims about the vacationing couple next door to his townie dad’s house — where he’s been sent to live for the summer — Ben is faced with an uphill climb from the get-go. Add to this the fact that the film’s bogey-creature, a grody body-snatching forest demon, uses a maniacal form of mental trickery on the families it targets, making them forget about their own children. That way no one misses them when they get whisked away into the woods for feasting purposes
At some point, even though mixing these two stories is far from an awful idea, both sides get short-sheeted. Both wind up with unfinished narrative business and the film’s attempt to end things on a small “gotcha” beat plays more like a smirk than anything resembling dread. And so, at the close, the story feels a little lighter and less menacing than the adventure before it would lead you to believe.
There are a bunch of different push/pulls at play in The Wretched. The idea of dripping darkness lurking underneath a small summer-destination town. Ben’s own need for parental stability manifesting into chaos for the family one house over. Tonally, and thematically, it can be hit or miss, but it’s always watchable.
The Wretched’s endeavor to meld a junior mystery with some pretty extreme horror works more than it doesn’t, but ultimately neither side of this narrative coin gets explored as much as it should. Despite this, as a well shot and admirably executed thriller, it’s a good entry into the catalogue of on-the-cheap scares.