Brutality is not limited to physical torment. The Dark and The Wicked is emotionally brutal, and a bit physically tortuous too.
The film begins with Louise (Marin Ireland) and her brother Michael (Michael Abbott Jr.) returning home to pay their final respects to their father. He is at hospice at home, and will likely not make it much longer. Their home is a working sheep and goat farm, nothing fancy and nothing run down. Their mother (Julie Oliver-Touchstone) says she did not want them to come back, and they soon find out this was not a plea for them to avoid making a fuss but rather a plea for them to protect themselves from the darkness that has arrived at the farm.
We gather that Louise has been mostly absent from all of their lives for some time. This is not in exposition or explanation, but rather snippets of glances or quick words between her, Michael, and their mom. In fact, much of the film is quiet and asks the audience to assemble the pieces of their stories together on their own, rather than being handed everything in a package of plot. This creates an investment in this family and their dynamics long ahead of their unraveling. And unravel they do.
Not long after their melancholy reunion we are allowed to see the creeping reasons that mom warned them to stay away. The Dark and The Wicked is not a haunted house film nor is it a Christian terror thriller with demons and renegade priests itching for an exorcism. Perhaps the most frightening thing is that Louise and Michael do not know what they are dealing with nor can they trust themselves. The threat us unspecified, but the danger is real.
To put it simply, their world breaks down. The nightmares that overtake their days, and nights start morphing from dreams to reality, and there is no way to know what is causing it or how to stop it. When a priest (Xander Berkeley) their mother once trusted comes into their lives, the lines between truth and terror break down even further until the invisible source of their fear become very, very real.
Visually, The Dark and The Wicked goes to great lengths to set the mood of the film without telegraphing its intentions. With so little expository dialogue, the film relies on the look and feel of the farm and the camera’s behavior within it. Characters are often framed in doors, or by fences. They are trapped, but may not be aware of it. We get to experience their growing fear and unsettling reality just as they are sinking into it too.
The Dark and The Wicked refuses to show any concern with the comfort or reassurance of the audience and the characters. What follows throughout the film is heartbreaking, mean spirited, and exploitative of past emotions and future hopes. Brutality is the first word that comes to mind, if only to evoke the nihilism and tragedy that follows, at the expense of the family here.
If there is one criticism The Dark and The Wicked has earned, it is with the odd placement of a number of jump scares. The nature of the torment Louise is subjected to is certainly prone to seeing things she does not expect, when she does not expect, but the way the film incorporates them never fully integrates into the rest of her pains. The escalating musical cues that telegraph these jumps are a disservice to the tension and mood built within, and undermine her experiences with these scares.
The Dark and The Wicked lives up to its title with unsettling brutality. Its presentation of evil and disdain for humanity makes for one of the more troubling films in recent memory.