The Dark and the Wicked
Director: Bryan Bertino
Cast: Marin Ireland, Michael Abbott Jr. and Julie Oliver-Touchstone
A careful study of the worst hauntings on record, whether in the archives of the Warrens or self-published accounts by those afflicted, will reveal the insidious nature of the demonic.
In the world of film, supernatural horror is a two-hour smash and grab that often neglects the art of the slow burn.
It’s very rare that a film can smoulder, ready to ignite during the denouement and keep the attention of the audience, but The Dark and The Wicked does so in a richly disorienting manner.
The film is set on the Straker family farm in rural Texas and never leaves its roots, only to perhaps spread its insidious nature to the suburbs. We’re introduced to the Straker offspring, Michael and Louise, who return to their parent’s home to help their mother with their ailing father.
It’s a sobering view of mortality. And there is very little light. Even during the day, it’s ashen grey. It’s the hue of isolation and claustrophobia, and it sinks its invisible tendrils into the two children.
The death of a parent is always a challenging time. It’s a dangerous reminder of how finite our lives are. But the added dimension of something sinister hanging over an atheist family, like the albatross around the ancient mariner, provides greater frailty.
Losing both parents takes that frailty to the next level.
Belief in a God or not, spiritual ideologies are not the succour to survive the juggernaut of evil. In this instance, evil is “Him”. Even when characters are away from the farm the evil follows, which was a common trope in many of the Warrens stories from Amityville, New York to West Pittston, Pennsylvania to Southington, Connecticut.
But one steady theme throughout human civilization is our ability to love and feel compassion, which is often what we do when caring for our loved ones with one foot over the threshold into the afterlife. The nurse who cares for the Straker patriarch also shares this before she falls victim to “Him”.
It’s also the defence the Warrens would always encourage to prevent a demonic presence from ripping apart a family.
The Strakers are already vulnerable, but the mother, Virginia, distraught by the impending end of her husband David, with a whole farm of goats and sheep to take care of, has let her guard down with sorrow.
And evil walked in under the guise of Christianity. Virginia shares her haunting tales — the macabre dance she performs with her invisible suitor — in a diary that Louise eats up.
Their agnosticism doesn’t shield them from those near-death questions: “What if?” We all get them, no matter how much of an atheist or believer we are.
The Dark and the Wicked is a cynical film, as the end of it has Louise practising the very lesson the nurse offered her: love will help keep “Him” away.
But to no clear result, much like the multitude of exorcisms in the supernatural horror subgenre. Evil never goes away.
Photo courtesy Shudder