It is rare that a film manages to cut deep into my core. While many hit at that surface fear that we all share, few can twist the knife deep enough to leave a lasting impact. Yet, at Fantasia 2020, The Dark and the Wicked from director Bryan Bertino (The Strangers) manages this very feat. It is a deeply disturbing nightmare that grabs for the jugular and does not let go for the over 90-minute runtime. While not an easy watch, for anyone that loves horror, this is a film that needs to be seen.
From minute one The Dark and the Wicked works to build its unique nightmarish vision, giving no reprieve to its suffering, only diving deeper into depravity as the clock ticks down. Siblings Louise (Marin Ireland) and Michael (Michael Abbott Jr.) find themselves back at the family farm to try to lend a hand. With their father on his deathbed, and their mother struggling to make ends meet, the movie starts by painting a bleak picture of this life. From their mother urging them to stay away, to the sense of dread slowly enveloping this farm and anyone that touches it, this is an evil that will not be stopped, and won’t rest till all within its dark grasp.
Director Bryan Bertino captures the sense of dread early on with the setting and the framing giving a strong sense of isolation, fear and melancholy. Before anything overtly twisted is shown on screen, it is made clear something is not right, and no matter what the characters try, the sense of inevitability is always present.
The stillness and cold brutality of the evil builds as the film progresses, laying the groundwork for what the viewer should expect early on, and layering on new tension, horror and anxiety with each new scene and frame the film lays bare. The tension and fear is perfectly balanced with a constant stillness of the isolated farm makes every subsequent scene all the more ominous. From feeding animals to picking up the phone, each action the characters make brings them closer to their horrific end, with nothing offering a reprieve to the blanket of horror and suffering they find themselves trapped in.
No time is wasted plunging the family into the occult and supernatural, with visions and apparitions plaguing their dreams and waking hours. Spirits, dark shadows, and ghostly figures envelop the family, with the lines of reality blurring more as the film progresses. This all works to build to a crescendo of blood, violence and darkness. As our protagonists struggle, it quickly becomes clear there is no escape; the evil is a disease, infecting anyone it touches. Reprieve and safety are only an illusion, with hellish suffering waiting around the corner ready to crush all hope in the most brutal ways possible.
The Dark and the Wicked is dripping with dread, suffering and darkness all wrapped in some truly stunning visuals. This is a film that draws you in and never lets you go, with the inevitability of it all only adding to the need for a reprieve that never comes. The Dark and the Wicked is a nihilistic take on family suffering that will eat away at your soul long after watching — in the best way possible. A feast for the eyes and mind, this is a film that needs to be seen to be understood, and is hands down one of the best films on the Fantasia 2020 program.