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Toronto After Dark 2019: ‘The Wretched’ Leans Heavily on its Inspirations

‘The Wretched’ has neat concepts and serviceable performances, but contains an all-too-familiar narrative that muddles its execution.

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The Wretched

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.

The Wretched

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.

The Wretched

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.

Chris is a graduate of Communications from Simon Fraser University and resides in Toronto, Ontario. His favorite films include The Big Lebowski, The Raid 2, Alien, and The Thing. You will often find him with a drink in his hand yelling about movies.

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Toronto After Dark

Toronto After Dark 2019: ‘Come to Daddy’ is a Darkly Comedic Examination of Masculinity

With a brilliant cast and gleeful levels of violence, Ant Timpson’s feature debut carries its emotional baggage to its climax in a barrage of humor and mayhem.

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Come to Daddy

After receiving a note from his estranged father who has been absent from his life for 30 years, Norval Greenwood (Elijah Wood) attempts to solve the mystery of his father’s departure and why he has suddenly beckoned him to his remote coastal home. Stranger and stranger by the minute, Come to Daddy is a hilarious dark comedy and an incredibly assured feature debut from Ant Timpson. Perfectly cast and never lacking in mystery or tension, the film hides a sinister secret until breaking into a frenetic melange of violence and subsequent teardown of masculinity.

Come to Daddy

Beginning couched in an eerie atmosphere, Norval attempts to rekindle whatever might still be left of his relationship with his father, Gordon (Stephen McHattie). Antagonizing Norval at every turn, Gordon goes through every old trick in the book from teasing the sober Norval with a glass overflowing with red wine, to calling him out on his successful life in the past three years, to even taking stabs at Norval’s masculinity. This final part is where a lot of Come to Daddy hangs its hat. Conversations with his father turn heated quickly, with his father persistently putting Norval’s sexuality on blast. Devilish in his delivery, McHattie embodies the grizzled, disappointed father character only to set him loose upon his cowardly, effeminate son. 

What begins as a two-hander screenplay of a son trying to learn about his father, eventually turns into something much more eccentric, dark, and tense. The cast increases including incredibly fun performances from Michael Smiley and Martin Donovan, each one gleefully tearing into their roles. Seeing them bounce off of Wood’s character is a constant delight. They also shed a lot of their comedic performances for moments of vulnerability that honestly feel genuinely earned amidst the carnage that the second and final act delivers. Watching characters run amok with makeshift weaponry only to stop and reflect upon life itself would seem jarring anywhere else, but because the film exposes masculinity from the outset, those vulnerable moments play into the themes just as effectively as the gleeful violence.

Come to Daddy

Come to Daddy invests in its central father-son relationship and intentionally aggravates both Norval and the audience. The cold-heartedness of Gordon is there to make things seem off-balance and to put its main character at unease. Unsurprising is that the movie eventually loses itself in its violence and themes, eradicating a lot of the work done narratively – specifically the work done in the second act. Still a thrilling piece of dark entertainment, it just loses the thread at some point and all through the final stretch of Come to Daddy I wondered whether it would be able to piece things together. Its subdued ending feels tender but also feels like it is forgotten some of the early details it concocted as roadblocks.

Even with a less-than-satisfying narrative, the emotional weight that Come to Daddy grapples with and eventually lets surface is compelling enough to go on a violent, mysterious journey. At home with many of the films Timpson has produced over the years, his feature debut is rife with great comedic performances and devious amounts of darkness. The story is merely a device to onboard viewers for what’s to come, but makes a hard shift after its set up to demonstrate the many other ways to explore hypermasculinity. Come for the daddy issues and stay for the mayhem.

Toronto After Dark 2019 runs October 17-25th.

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Toronto After Dark

Toronto After Dark 2019: ‘The Mortuary Collection’ Entertains with Tales of the Dead

Clancy Brown tells morbid tales of life before death in this endearing anthology film – each one increasingly more terrifying than the last.

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The Mortuary Collection

As far as anthology films are concerned, it’s easy enough to skate by on the quality of the shorts compiled in them than trying to craft a good enough story to wrap around them. It can be as simple as finding some VHS tapes lying around, or as intricate as weaving characters from the frame narrative into the stories themselves. The Mortuary Collection finds a decent enough middle-point as it regales tales of the dead that are both entertaining and appropriately morbid. Neatly packaged, director Ryan Spindell’s anthology film delivers on its promise of being terrifying and unbelievable, even if it struggles to justify the shorts it picks within the overarching story.

Probably closer in tone to a darker version of this year’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, The Mortuary Collection has several things going for it that prove beneficial. For starters, the movie’s framing device involves a mortician (played by the consistently enjoyable Clancy Brown) telling stories to a young applicant, Sam (Caitlin Custer), about the deceased. The setting itself lends nicely to the concept of an anthology film, with dead bodies passing through the mortuary at the end of their stories. Even the overarching narrative becomes fittingly more ambitious than the shorts themselves by the end. Yet, why those specific short stories are told is barely given more justification than “evil is always out there”. There’s a little more flavor text than that, but The Mortuary Collection isn’t concerned with explaining why the stories were chosen, but instead how entertaining the stories are – which Sam herself acts as an audience surrogate, criticizing them while also begging for more tales of increasing terror levels.

The Mortuary Collection

Where audiences will get their kicks is from the stories within the film. Each one increasingly more disturbing than the last, they are all entertaining at the bare minimum. Even the ones that don’t wholly work still offer visuals that could serve as someone’s nightmare fuel. Each short dabbles in comedy, with some more so than others, but they all offer a horrifying story to tell. Each one also offers a unique hook to it whether its a twist or a set up that pays off by the end. It’s easy to get completely invested in the world of each short, and it’s impressive how well they all work when most anthology films usually carry at least one or two duds. This is likely due to not being subservient to any specific theme or intent, other than that someone dies.

It’s the acting that keeps things even-keeled, with Clancy Brown being the unsurprising standout. He tells the stories with gravitas and brings a presence to his mortician character that makes it easy to see him loving his job in the final resting place for the dead. When Custer’s character gets to be a little more free from being the audience surrogate, she’s a lot of fun, but regretfully spends a lot of time listening to and demanding more stories from Brown’s character. Within the shorts, there are characters that feed into the other stories, including a doctor that just seems to be everywhere. The performances from everyone involved are befitting a movie so devilishly dark with a nice helping of comical undertones.

The Mortuary Collection

Certainly, a movie made from the heart, The Mortuary Collection is consistently endearing. A delightfully macabre anthology film that can easily string audiences along as they’re enveloped by the movie’s sick sense of humor and wonderful storytelling. As each tale doubles down on the levels of dread, it also becomes apparent that the movie hasn’t really justified how many shorts it has, why it picked the ones it did, and how they all link up on a thematic level. They’re just entertaining stories of people dying in horrible ways, which is enough to recommend The Mortuary Collection to anyone craving a solid, terrifying anthology film.

Toronto After Dark 2019 runs October 17-25th.

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Toronto After Dark

Toronto After Dark 2019: ‘The Assent’ is an Ambitious, Satisfying Possession Film

Offering plenty of thrills and hooks to justify another exorcism film’s existence, ‘The Assent’ will please horror fans wanting to scratch that supernatural itch.

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The Assent

One of the most overdone subgenres of horror, the possession movie, is also not going anywhere anytime soon. Comfort food for horror fans, they scratch all the itches of the audience while still being mostly entertaining enough in their own right. Movies like The Assent help illuminate why that is by offering a slightly fresh perspective on an age-old concept. Initially following a father and son as they wrestle with supernatural events occurring within their home, Pearry Reginald Teo’s latest film pulls the rug out from under viewers in an admirable and ambitious way that justifies another exorcism film like this to exist.

Suffering from hallucinations as a symptom of his schizophrenia, Joel (Robert Kazinsky) is barely making ends meet as a widowed father with a job paying less-than-minimum wage. He’s also on the verge of losing his son, Mason (Caden Dragomer), to social services if he can’t prove he can provide for his son. When Joel begins noticing his son behaving strangely, he is visited by Father Lambert (Peter Jason), who recently was released from prison after a botched exorcism killed the child host, and who also believes Mason is possessed by the same demon he’s been hunting for years. 

The Assent

The most interesting hook in all of this is not the plot twist that happens near the end and recontextualizes the film, but instead, the movie’s exploration of a single parent with a psychiatric disorder like schizophrenia also wrestling with their child being possessed by Satan. It can be a lot to take in and the film often feels cheesier than it probably originally intended, but The Assent has so many ideas packed into its brief runtime that it’s admirable for it to try as much as it does. The plot centers itself around Joel’s struggle to take care of Mason and retains that fatherly love even when it heads into the eventual exorcism plot. Everything is seen from Joel’s perspective, even the exorcism, so there’s a dedication to his character which keeps everything grounded.

While The Assent is still just another exorcism movie, it’s one that is willing to reach beyond its grasp.

It also helps that a lot of the scares come from his hallucinations. Armed with a polaroid camera to take photos in areas he thinks he sees things, Joel is constantly playing a balancing act between what’s real and what isn’t. When they happen, the camera takes on Those same hallucinations are also frequent enough that they start losing their appeal, with the movie pulling the same tricks as every other horror film. This goes along with the idea that The Assent is never really more than just well-done comfort food. It can range from silly to tense, but it smartly decides to focus on Joel for its narrative and perspective. Even with a character like Father Lambert offering a character worth diving into, the film justifiably keeps his personal demons at bay for a more enjoyably haggard performance by John Carpenter-alum, Peter Jason.

The Assent

While The Assent is still just another exorcism movie, it’s one that is willing to reach beyond its grasp. Almost taking a kitchen sink approach to its horror concepts, the film employs just enough tricks to entertain without ever really dazzling. Unfortunately, it also loses its way in the home stretch with a stubborn acknowledgment that it didn’t really seed its ending twist well enough to forego a detailed explanation. Ambitious and sufficiently terrifying, The Assent is a satisfying possession film that does an excellent job lulling audiences into its nightmare.

Toronto After Dark 2019 runs October 17-25th.

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