by Hope Madden
A tidy opening sets the stage, spilling enough beans to prepare you for the full tale while creating an atmosphere of genuine horror. Some excellent soundtrack choices establish a time and generate a mood.
So far so good, The Wretched!
As sometimes happens when a horror movie starts out strong, this one falls into familiar tropes to move things forward. Writers/directors Brett and Drew T. Pierce (Deadheads) stumble slightly as they usher in Act 2, relying on stock concepts as well as shorthand character introductions: rich asshole, hot girl, unfussy hot girl wearing eccentric socks who you should actually care about, Dad who’s trying but just isn’t that good at this.
Basically, there’s too much here that you’ve seen before and may not need to see again. If horror movies have taught me anything (they have, too!), it’s that Never Have I Ever is a lame game that only brings on death.
Still, the Pierce brothers and a game (if mainly unknown) cast keep even the familiar pretty fresh.
High school kid Ben (John-Paul Howard) finds himself out at the lake, working the docks with his newly single dad (Jamison Jones). Sure, he’d planned to spend the summer tooling around town in the Lincoln his mom was passing down to him, but he got himself into a little hot water and now it’s a summer job catering to pampered townies and vacationing families.
If only that was going to be his biggest problem.
Zarah Mahler is especially effective in breaking through tropes as the neighbor lady who is not what she seems, and The Wretched uses the “child in danger” plotline to worrisome effect throughout its running time.
Weird behavior from those tourists next door finds Ben doing a little sleuthing. Quickly, The Wretched turns into Rear Window/Fright Night/Disturbia—but without the actual house arrest kind of thing, which seriously limits its tension.
There are other, lesser-known films that are thematically closer and, honestly, better, including last year’s Irish horror The Hole in the Ground and Oliver Frampton’s almost entirely unseen 2014 gem, The Forgotten.
At about the time you begin to weary of the film, it recovers with a nice surprise that reaffirms the promise of Act 1. There’s far too much borrowed and rehashed between Acts 1 and 3 for it to stand the test of time alone, but The Wretched delivers enough to entertain and to leave you interested in what’s next for the Pierce brothers.