Teenager Ben (John-Paul Howard) comes to live with his dad Liam (his parents have split) and gets a job working at the local marina. Meanwhile, Liam’s neighbour Abbie (Zarah Mahler) brings a deer carcass back to her home, intending to prepare it for food… but something crawls out of the buck’s body in the night…
Ben finally realises that Abbie has been killed and a witch is lurking beneath her skin! This witch begins hypnotising people (blood trickling from an ear is a telltale sign a person has been mentally tampered with by the witch) so that she can make them forget that they have children or siblings… because she feeds on ‘forgotten’ victims.
She is, in fact, the Dark Mother: a being ‘born from root, rock and tree’.
Written and directed by the Pierce Brothers, THE WRETCHED is a so-so, modest horror yarn that lacks focus and features a supernatural villain with rather muddy motivations some of the time, though the movie gets better as it goes along, with a decent finale that sees Ben venturing into a hole beneath a tree in the nearby woods to save the captured children.
With the enigmatic image of a triangular, pagan-like symbol scratched into a tree trunk, plus posters featuring a stag’s skull, I was hoping that this would turn out to be more of a folk horror tale, but the filmmakers don’t delve too much into the lore of this witch of the woods, focusing the story more on Ben’s strained relationship with his father (Jamison Jones) and his burgeoning friendship with one of his work colleagues (Piper Curda).
But there are some decent moments, as we see writhing movements (of the witch) beneath other people’s skin, and at the end we do get to see the wretched witch herself as she pulls herself out of the corpse of Liam’s girlfriend Sara (Azie Tesfai).
The Pierce Brothers do get a little darker than I was expecting during the final encounter beneath the tree, showing the witch eating Abbie’s son Dillon (Blane Crockarell), a young character that Ben was trying to protect during the movie and who I was sure was going to be saved at the end.