UT Alum horror film ‘The Dark and the Wicked’ brings terrifying visuals, ominous story

Noah Levine

Director Bryan Bertino dips his toes back into the horror genre with Shudder’s upcoming film “The Dark and the Wicked.” 

The UT alumnus, best known for directing horror classic “The Strangers,” writes and directs a chilling story surrounding a grieving pair of adult siblings caring for their sick father in a rural Texas cabin. As the week progresses, a strange and dark force begins to take hold of the family. 

What immediately stands out in Bertino’s new feature is the anxiety-inducing atmosphere that seeps throughout the entire film. Ominous low-lighting combined with the isolating countryside cabin featured in the narrative make for a visually haunting experience. The dark and dingy color palette is noticeable in every aspect of the production design, ensuring the film’s setting is as claustrophobic and uncomfortable as possible. Eerie shots of the dimly lit countryside, herds of goats and shadowy cabin interiors contribute to the unsettling visual storytelling. 

Much like recent horror flicks “Relic” and “Hereditary,” “The Dark and the Wicked” also takes a stab at exploring grief, trauma and strained family bonds through the veil of the genre. Siblings Louise (Marin Ireland) and Michael (Michael Abbott Jr.) have returned to their mother’s Texas home, where she has continued to care for their bedridden father. When their mother starts behaving strangely, the sibling duo begins to realize something isn’t right. 

While the narrative is a slow-burn in terms of plot answers and revelations, Bertino infuses enough haunting moments to keep viewers engaged. A combination of jump scares and striking horror visuals keep the frights dynamic and never repetitive. Stand-out moments include a sudden shower scare and nightmare-inducing shot of a floating woman. Xander Berkeley brings some “Poltergeist II” style chills with his unsettling performance as a character simply credited as “The Priest.” 

A somber, yet chilling score creeps into several scenes, tempting the audience with unsettling melodies. The music makes these moments even more ominous, building up suspense and unease. 

The narrative arc mainly revolves around Louise dealing with the strange happenings occuring around the home. As the frights get more intense and the mystery unravels, each character is pushed to their emotional and physical limits. The pacing makes for a very well-balanced trajectory with the intensity slowly rising as the film reaches its climax. The narrative resolution isn’t necessarily the most satisfying, but it achieves the maximum extent of the film’s scare factor. A more explanatory ending may have felt more satisfying, yet the ambiguity it displays ensures the terror will linger in audiences' minds long after the credits roll. 

“The Dark and the Wicked” is another chilling entry in Bryan Bertino’s directing catalog that surely makes use of the same subtle frights from his previous works. 

4 terrifying showers out of 5