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Review: The Paranormal ‘The Dark and the Wicked’ Premieres at the Fantasia International Film Festival

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Review: The Paranormal 'The Dark and the Wicked' Premieres at the Fantasia International Film Festival

Most horror stories about entities are about the family. Sure, it’s about the demon or ghost, but it’s really about the relationships. The Dark and the Wicked, written and directed by Bryan Bertino, is about an entity or phenomena that drives a family into madness.

Louise (Marin Ireland) and Micheal (Michael Abbott Jr.) stay with their parents on their family farm to spend time with their father before he passes. It’s a sweet looking piece of land with cute goats running about, but that’s not the house’s vibe. The house hates joy and carrots. The house doesn’t want to be happy, and it doesn’t want anyone inside the house to be happy either.

Their mother (Julie Oliver-Touchstone) is on the edge of a nervous breakdown from caring for her dying husband. She is worn and tired, barely able to maintain a facade of normalcy. But something else is happening. The mother is grappling with interactions she can’t explain. It’s not her, it’s an entity haunting her, working away at her mind in secret. It drives the mother mad until it pushes her over the edge. And what an edge!

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Soon, the siblings confront the weirdness themselves. It’s hard to explain — but weird, weird stuff starts happening. The entity is a trickster. We don’t see it in its natural form, but we catch a glimpse of it in the eyes. The eyes roll to the back of the skull showing the white on some people. That’s a sign of the entity, I think? Is it a devil? We’re not sure. It’s elusive. We don’t get to confront it because it doesn’t fight fair.

The entity goes a step further than most ghosts or demons. It starts playing with reality, which is what makes The Dark and the Wicked particularly interesting. The entity can (seemingly) manifest events from afar. It destroys people by undermining their ability to think because it can undermine reality. Entities are gaslighters!

But what is it truly? I think I can safely say that it’s a phenomenon without giving anything away. Depicting this type of paranormal phenomena is what sets The Dark and the Wicked apart. It’s rare to see a film explore this kind of haunting because it’s too hard to show on screen. But the film invokes the feeling of a supernatural phenomenon through atmospheric cinematography. The scenes with the goats in the farmhouse are particularly spooky. There is some violence but the goats bleating, for some reason, scared me more.

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Some aspects of The Dark and the Wicked are based on a real-life haunting — the documented (kind of, that’s part of the weirdness) phenomena that happened at Skinwalker Ranch. Skinwalker Ranch is too weird to get into; you have to read the book Hunt for the Skinwalker to understand how truly bizarre it is. It’s an entire season of The X-Files rolled up into one haunting.

The actors do a great job grounding the material by not making flashy choices that might draw attention to themselves instead of the story. They’re entirely believable. That’s hard to do, one false moment, and the scene will become funny instead of scary. Marin Ireland and Michael Abbott Jr. are particularly effective as the siblings. Their conversations on the porch are the most thoughtful parts because they discuss how scared they are. That rings true to me.

The Dark and the Wicked is about paranormal phenomena, but it’s also about the horror of taking care of sick family members. It’s about the responsibility of sorting out your parent’s life before and after they pass, something people don’t often talk about, it’s not just grief, but the sad work involved afterward. Such as the burden of cleaning their house after an illness. Or going through their things, finding diaries or journals, and other mementos. Their death and their belongings haunt you. That’s the real haunting.

Bryan Bertino directed 2008’s The Strangers, one of my favorite home invasion horror films. Because of Bertino, I never answer my door when I’m home alone. The Dark and the Wicked, recently acquired by Shudder, is premiering at The Fantasia International Film Festival and will be released on November 6, 2020, in the States. That’s after Halloween, but if you’re a horror-movie fan, every night is Halloween.

The Dark and the Wicked Poster

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