The Dark and the Wicked (2020)

The feeling that I get twenty minutes into a horror movie should be, “Where is this going to go next?” not “When are they going to screw this up?” But alas, this is 2021, when mumblecore horror and overpraised elevated nonsense and A24 movies with great trailers and horrible full-length stories are the norm. So yeah, twenty minutes into The Dark and the Wicked and I was getting the answer to that question.

Bryan Bertino made The Strangers and wrote the not-as-good sequel, as well as movies like Mockinbird and The Monster. This time, he’s gone back to his family’s farmhouse to tell the story of what happens when your mother tells you that you should never come back home.

The first fifteen minutes of this movie hit home in a way that few movies have in some time. Over the last year, my mother has had to care for my father, a man who is totally there one day and then gone mentally for days at a time. It’s not as horrible as this movie, where the father is slowly dying and the mother is the only one there, calling her children back home to let them see him before he dies.

Then, you know, the dad shows up as a demon to scare the daughter while she’s in the shower and the effect is really, really bad and then you realize that no matter how well art directed the beginning of this movie is, how great the trailer is and how cool the poster is art designed, this movie is going to be the same possession tropes that we’ve seen before.

Which is a shame, because the darkness of the opening is brutal. It is everything that loss feels like. I have no idea how you keep a movie going with that level of pure bleakness, but this movie does not do that.

Instead, it becomes a movie where I continually look at the time to see how much is left of it, which I hate, because I was with this movie and wanted so much more than a floating mom outside and a preacher who calls to mind Reverend Kane, which is not the intention but at this point, I started thinking of movies that really scared me.

Elevated horror wants to mean so much more than just being frightening. Cool story. And I want these movies to be successful. But you know, there have been movies that take horrifying moments out of real life, like Rosemary’s Baby and childbirth, Don’t Look Now and the loss of a child, The Shining and the pains of being a parent (and selfishly for me, the fact that no one understands just how hard it is to be a writer when everyone keeps bothering you) and, well, I could go on. What films like this, The Babadook and yeah every Ari Aster movie gets wrong is that you can make a movie about those moments and still be frightening.

Eh, I’m probably just being a jerk by comparing three of the best horror movies ever against movies that can barely get noticed outside of film twitter geeks who just want to have something that can belong to them. You have to feel for that kind of spirit, I guess.

You can still think these are bad movies.

But don’t make the mistakes I did. When you see that cool poster or DVD cover, when you watch that trailer, when you see the cool look that this starts with, maybe you can beat the disappointment of this unlike me.

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