There’s nothing creepier than thinking the people next door are up to no good.
“The Wretched” toys with these horror tropes but adds plenty new to the experience. Like brains, the kind zombies would love to chomp on but too rarely crop up in horror fare.
The results are sharp, occasionally wry and uniformly fun. It’s not hard to see people watching this one over and again. The first time alone is a hoot.
Poor Ben (John-Paul Howard) arrives at his father’s house with plenty pressing on his teen shoulders. His folks are divorced, and the split’s fallout remains far from resolved. He doesn’t know anyone in this seaside town, but he quickly meets the local bullies who linger around his Dad’s marina.
The lady next door may be his biggest problem.
Zarah Mahler’s Abbie is easy on the eyes, but there’s something not quite right about her. Yes, “The Wretched” adds the old saw, “never trust anyone over 30” to the genre souffle, but it only makes the recipe tastier.
Something wicked lurks in this cozy hamlet, and Ben may be the only person who knows the truth. He does get an able assist from fellow dock hand Mallory (Piper Curda, soaring beyond romantic interest cliches).
It’s no spoiler to say they’re on to something, but it’s how the threat unfolds that makes “The Wretched” popcorn-clutching good.
You won’t be smacking your forehead at Ben’s stupid antics or silently rage against massive plot holes. “The Wretched” marks the feature film debut of The Pierce Brothers (Brett and Drew T., to be precise), and they’re quickly leaps and bounds better than some established horror peers.
Oh, and they know how to ration out the scares. The creature in question proves nightmare-worthy in brief flashes and closeups alike. The supporting players, including Ben’s increasingly worried father (Jamison Jones) offer credible context for their horrors afoot.
And, for those eager to pick out more cinematic influences, you might see flickers of both “Rear Window” and “The Grudge” lurking throughout. The latter set the template for audio cues, especially with twitchy bodies that appear … abbie-normal.
Ben sure is normal, though. He’s a struggling teen who’s both insulated and cocky. The brothers’ screenplay doesn’t lionize him or make him smack-worthy. He’s … real, and Howard brings a dash of realism to this otherworldly yarn.
In a way, “The Wretched” hails from another era, a time when screenplay shortcuts weren’t as common, or exasperating. The film lacks the numbing ‘80s flaws like corny performances and cringe-worthy soundtrack cues.
“The Wretched” could join that precious horror canon that demands repeat viewing. The effects suggest just that, a giddy connection of practical effects and, we think, digital tweaks.
You will jump, and more than a few times. What you won’t do is roll your eyes, and for that alone we’re grateful.
HiT or Miss: “The Wretched” delivers old-school horror chills you won’t feel guilty about later.