The Wretched – Review
A defiant teenage boy, struggling with his parents' imminent divorce, faces off with a thousand year-old witch, who is living beneath the skin of and posing as the woman next door.
We reviewed an extremely average Netflix movie a few days ago in the form of No One Gets Out Alive. It seems only fair to switch on over to rival company Amazon Prime Video and see whether they have an equally bland movie to offer, right? Enter The Wretched.
The Wretched Ending Explained
Before we get started, have you already watched The Wretched and are confused by the ending? Well you are in luck as we have attempted to explain the ending in our The Wretched Ending Explained article. Why not go and check it out? The link opens in a new window so keep this one open and read my review as well. It will be hilarious when we totally disagree and you think I am a dick for being so hard to please. I still like you, though, it’s cool. Remember, the article is full of spoilers.
Okay, full disclosure, finding an average movie to review was not my actual motivation for watching The Wretched. I’m actually a big fan of movies based around witches, whether set in the modern time or in the far past. I love the mythology and I’m a big fan of stories featuring female antagonists. We’ve all seen Jason, Mike Myers, Freddy Kruger and the like. We all know what to expect with male villains. Flipping the script to female villains makes for a far more interesting dynamic, in my humble opinion.
The Wretched, directed by the Pierce brothers Brett and Drew Pierce, follows teenage boy Ben as he moves in with his Dad after his parents split. During his first few nights at the house, Ben hears a sound on the roof and goes to check it out. When skulking around he spots what looks like a witch on the neighbours property. From here on Ben seeks to confirm his suspicions around what he thought he saw, uncover the mystery of the witch, and protect the people around him.
With all of the above in mind, The Wretched seemed like an obvious choice. A thousand year old witch faces off with a teenage boy? Shit, sounds good, well, except the part about the teenage boy. Teenage girl I could deal with, group of kids, sure, sounds fine.. A teenage boy? No, that just sucks. A modern teenage boy has to be the worst choice to front any kind of horror movie and that is exactly where The Wretched puts its first foot wrong, in my opinion.
Teenage Protagonist… Really?
I don’t know if movie makers realise this but us guys, as teenagers, are utterly intolerable. Would you be interested in the day to day life of the teenage lads you see loitering around supermarket aisles every day after school? Of course not! I can already tell that they all share the same barber. I can smell that they all wear too much Paco Rabanne 1 Million. I can make an educated guess that most of them will live at home until they are 27 and spend their wages on a VXR Corsa to wrap around a tree. I don’t need to know anymore about them and I certainly don’t need to be rooting for them in a horror movie. They make for much better antagonists ala Eden Lake.
The Wretched’s Ben, played by John-Paul Howard. is no exception to this rule. The movie attempts to portray him as a likeable underdog. Fair enough. The problem is he spends far too much time looking utterly smug and talking in a manner that reminded me of a character from a Dream Phone advertisement. My partner and I both really struggled to like this character.
It felt, to me, as though Ben believed he was the coolest guy around, the ultimate Chad so to speak, whereas everyone else thought he was a bit of a loser. Perhaps the fact that Ben was unaware of this was deliberate but I honestly don’t know if that was the case. I think the character wasn’t particularly well developed and John-Paul Howard didn’t have much to work with or go off.
I don’t particularly blame the actor for this, more the directing. There is a real attempt here to create a sort of Fright Night style experience but Ben is no Charley Brewster and I feel like those days of genuinely likeable teenage male protagonists are long gone.
Teenage Protagonist for Teenage Horror?
I suppose my complaints regarding the protagonist are made with the consideration that The Wretched was intended for adult viewers. I might be missing the point entirely here and it may actually be a horror movie designed for teens.
With that in mind, having a teenage boy as the lead doesn’t feel like such a glaring weakness and I imagine teenagers won’t mind having someone they can relate to, in some way, fronting the movie. I have to emphasise again that this is not a case of bad acting, more just misguided motivation. Ben does become more likeable towards the end of the movie as, I assume, the actor became more comfortable with the role.
As a story, The Wretched is fairly compelling and it definitely puts a twist on the usual witch formula. This doesn’t seem to be a traditional witch. She appears to have a range of different abilities. She can control people or take on different guises, as well as making people forget; this is something that becomes important to the plot. This all adds up to something of a nice twist on the usual witch tropes. The Wretched tries to do something different and generally succeeds in that aspect despite the witch’s history and her need to kill being poorly expanded on. I would love to know more about her and had more opportunity to understand her motivation. This speaks to a bigger problem with The Wretched, however: lack of development.
There’s a lot about The Wretched that feels rushed. The lack of development seems to haunt this movie more than the witch herself. Characters are lacking development, motivations, back stories, and even personalities. The events of the movie are half baked and feel inconsequential. The actions of the witch are random and, seemingly, without reason and the drama element keeping things together feels like an after thought.
There are a number of events in the movie that seem pointless and contribute nothing other than extending the run time. Ben fights with the local kids. Great, but why? It adds nothing to his character or the plot so what’s the point? Ben gets drunk at a party. Okay, he’s a teenager, that’s what they do. Ben has an unexplained broken arm. Why? Is it anything other than yet another nod to Rear Window?
Most of these things feel like padding and the time could have been better used to further develop the witch herself or even to introduce a few more scares; something which this movie is severely lacking in. The Wretched is just not that scary. There is no feeling of impending doom, you never really get any sense of fear. Despite bad things happening to people in the movie the lack of connection with the characters really impacts your ability to feel scared for them or to even empathise with them. There is one particularly scary scene, however, where two characters kiss while one of them has a mouth full of toothpaste and spit… Seriously, it is disgusting, thank God it is from a distance.
Some Dodgy Editing
There are also a number of points during the movie where it would seem scenes were cut or shortened leading to transitions that feel random. There is a scene where Ben is driven back home from the place he works. He is chatting in the car one moment only for the next cut to show him in the house picking up a golf club after hearing only the slightest hint of a noise. If I did that in my house I would never put the golf club down. Could we not have seen him enter the house and at least set the scene before throwing in some random escalation? It just feels a bit lazy.
The lack of plot development leads to some plot holes and a few things that, when given the whole story in context, don’t really add up. I couldn’t help but wonder why, given the witch’s vast powers and range of abilities, she didn’t just use these powers to cut out the middle man and end the movie early. If you think too hard about it, the movie ends up making little sense.
There is something of a twist at the end that is just a bit ridiculous and makes no sense given the events of the movie in much the same way as High Tension’s very famous twist made no sense. I obviously won’t spoil it but, yeah, it is there purely for the sake of having an OMG moment.
I have seen a lot of praise for the cinematography and technical aspect of The Wretched and, whilst fine for the most part, I fail to see why. Some of the lighting is awful, sound production came through pretty messy, and some of the framing of shots is a little strange. The Wretched enjoys extremely dark scenes with excessive amounts of lighting placed directly onto character’s faces. Think of a camp fire ghost story session with the torch under your face and you get the idea. It looks awful and makes some of the characters look extremely strange.
It’s not all bad, of course. Some of the locations are really fitting and there are some creative shots here and there that help support the story and keep your interest. There are some scenes featuring the witch that I particularly liked and thought worked quite well. The directors do a good job of making her feel otherworldly. There is a shot of the witch naked (only rear nudity for you prudes :P) and backlit by a window that was particularly freaky and impactful.
Sound production seemed a bit weighted toward loud noises. Scenes will be completely silent only for an incidental noise to blast out of nowhere in a completely disproportionate manner. It really buys into that jump scare horror tendency to unsettle you with ambient noises so you react more to the actual scares.
There is a lot of usage of up close shots, especially where the witch is concerned. This seems like a tactic to help with the practical effects so I understand but it can be a little distracting and cheap feeling at times. That does lead me on to my next point, however.
Some Good Points
I really liked the practical effects in The Wretched. The witch appears in a number of different guises and all use practical effects and makeup. It seems as though a lot of the gore is practical effects too which actually leads to those scenes being more impactful.
It’s worth keeping in mind that this is a witch movie and a lot of the violence is directed towards children. It can actually be quite graphic in parts as well so keep that in mind if that is likely to upset you.
Acting is generally fine. Characters are underdeveloped but the actors do what they can with the source material. Piper Curda, as Ben’s friend Mallory, and Zarah Mahler, as Ben’s neighbour Abbie both stand out from the rest of the cast. There are a few comedy moments in the movie that lighten the mood a lot.
There is a concerted effort to make this feel like an 80s summer horror and, while I don’t think it works particularly well, some people will probably love this. Despite my complaints, I imagine the story will appeal to people, there is nothing too deep and it’s a fairly inoffensive movie. It’s definitely a popcorn horror and probably fine to watch with a few friends or when you just want to shut your brain off for awhile.
Is it a Knockout?
The Wretched is a very average horror movie. Under developed characters and plot waste a promising premise. Unfortunately The Wretched could have been so much more but a bland protagonist, distinct lack of scares, and a pointless twist add up to something disappointing. If you are looking for a popcorn horror that you can switch your brain off and watch, The Wretched might just fill that niche. It would also fit as a horror movie to watch with teens who will likely enjoy it a lot more than you thanks to the young cast. It's not terrible enough to entirely avoid but temper your expectations. You may enjoy it.