Combustible Celluloid
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With: John-Paul Howard, Piper Curda, Jamison Jones, Azie Tespai, Zarah Mahler, Kevi Bigley, Gabriela Quezada Bloomgarden, Richard Ellis, Blane Crockarell, Judah Paul, Ja'Layah Washington, Amy Waller
Written by: Brett Pierce, Drew T. Pierce
Directed by: Brett Pierce, Drew T. Pierce
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 95
Date: 05/01/2020

The Wretched (2020)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Baby Doomer

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Familiar but fresh, this brisk, gory mashup of horror and teen adventure movie is inspired by many 1970s and 80s favorites, but it's less a slavish copy than it is an enthusiastic, adoring tribute.

In The Wretched, a flashback shows a teen babysitter encountering a witch devouring a young child. In the present day, troubled teen Ben (John-Paul Howard) arrives to spend a summer with his divorced dad (Jamison Jones). To his dismay, he also meets his dad's new girlfriend, Sara (Azie Tesfai). He gets a job at the marina and bonds with fellow misfit Mallory (Piper Curda).

Meanwhile, he thinks he sees some kind of monster next door, and then notices as the neighbors, Ty (Kevin Bigley) and Abbie (Zarah Mahler) with a young son, Dillon (Blane Crockarell), and a baby, begin acting strangely. When Dillon fails to show up for a sailing lesson, Ben follows up, and Ty claims never to have had any kids. Ben and Mallory decide to investigate, discovering a tree that could be the dwelling place of an ancient evil.

At a glance, The Wretched contains touches that recall the works of Steven Spielberg, among others, and the writing and directing brothers Brett and Drew T. Pierce are the sons of Bart Pierce, a special effects man on Sam Raimi's masterpiece The Evil Dead. But these bits and pieces are assembled with such finesse, with so many elements mixed together so well, that it feels like a seamless whole.

Howard's appealing performance as the teen Ben is a huge help; he may even be channeling Michael J. Fox's clumsy confidence from movies like Back to the Future. And Curda provides some bright, spunky moments as the funny Mallory. The monster is a good one, scary, even though it borrows some movements and sound effects from other movies.

But the real reason The Wretched works so well is that it's rooted in nightmarishly primal fears between parents and children, fears of abandonment, issues of trust, etc. That underlying dread effectively drives the storytelling, with its focus on characters rather than jump-scares.

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