There’s a very fine line between feeling familiar and being reverential or paying homage. The Wretched somehow stumbles into both categories, with a plot that mixes Invasion of the Body Snatchers with Fright Night, but also takes so many tonal cues from the latter that the film loses any originality by its finale. Somehow feeling lackluster despite seeding horror throughout, The Wretched fails to utilize its inspirations as a foundation for its own unique terror.
When a mother and son go out on a hike in the woods and accidentally hit a deer with their truck on the way home, they bring it back to clean it, so as not to let it go to waste. Unbeknownst to them, however, they’ve brought back more than just a deer carcass. As strange things start happening to this family, their neighbors’ son, Ben (John-Paul Howard), begins noticing and snooping around the house to try and figure out what is going on. Unfortunately, The Wretched introduces characters only to make the story into a semi-coming-of-age film that is far less interesting than the horror concepts it leaves behind.
As mentioned, the reverence for the movies that inspire The Wretched far outweighs any of the creative ideas present. Directors Brett and Drew T. Pierce offer twists and hooks that either land with a thud or get dropped in lieu of dipping back into the well of their inspirations. The final twist is a strong contender for being one of the best ideas that has ever been poorly executed. While it doesn’t come out of nowhere, the ramifications will wash over the audience, leaving most blankly staring back at the screen; it’s a genius idea that proves there is something underneath the homages.
The Wretched does maintain some compelling practical effects, however. Extremely macabre in design, there’s some pleasantly grotesque imagery especially toward the end of the film. This is really where most of the budget seems spent, since the first half of The Wretched merely develops the very predictable story of a boy who learns not to take everything for granted or push everyone away. With acting that’s actually decent, it’s a shame that the screenplay feels so borrowed, because everyone here feels deserving of a better film.
Capturing the feeling of another movie is one thing, but if an audience leaves believing they’ve seen this film before, something is wrong. The Wretched offers tantalizing concepts that would have elevated itself had they been fleshed out enough. A theme about being neglected and forgotten tries to play, but with varying degrees of failure, never really landing because the execution is familiar-yet-different. While not a movie completely devoid of enjoyment, The Wretched is a mostly bland affair that holds glimpses of a stronger, more enticing film.
The 2019 Toronto After Dark festival runs from October 17-25.