Director: Brett Pierce, Drew T. Pierce Screenwriter: Brett Pierce, Drew T. Pierce Cast: John-Paul Howard, Piper Curda, Zarah Mahler, Azie Tesfai, Jamison Jones Distributor: IFC Films Running Time: 96 min. MPAA: Not Rated

There’s a giddy sensation to encounter a horror film with such a clever twist. It is not a twist that turns the genre on its head nor is it one that is based on obvious clues that can be spotted a mile away. Though I dare not reveal its brilliance, I do so not out of it being the stellar centerpiece of the picture but for being a highlight of a rather low-key indie horror of characters in need of an extra kick of charisma.

For many years, a sleepy beachside town has been the home to a mysterious witch, occupying a tree. The demonic being not only has the power to take control of minds and munch on flesh but erase that person from existence. It’s the perfect cover to not only keep the witch’s whereabouts a secret but remove any evidence of disappearing people around a seaside town.

Two houses are at the center of this witch’s obsession. One is the home of a divorced father, joyed to have his teenage son Ben home after having undergone rehab for his addictions. The other home is a vacation spot for a family of four. Everything seems to be going a bit better for Ben as he takes on a job at the marina and seems to hit it off with a local girl, despite becoming the target of a boat-bound jock. Things start going wrong, however, once the family of four decides to indulge in some hunting and brings home more than a deer’s body with them.

The witch, spilling out of the guts of the dead animal, quickly takes hold of the family. It possesses the mother, consumes the baby, and slowly removes them all from existence. Ben takes notice of this from his house, peering over at the horrific acts and noticing that nobody remembers the couple had kids. But how does Ben know this, he wonders. Who would believe him? After all, he’s a former addict. Maybe he’s losing his mind. The witch is counting on such lacking trust.

The Wretched doesn’t really bend much of the genre tropes. Ben is likable enough to want to root for him to show everyone he was right and vanquish the witch but to such an extreme degree that it’s almost impossible to doubt him telling the truth. The same goes for his truth-worthy love interest, coming onto him strong and fast considering he just arrived in town. The snooty jock’s antagonistic nature is more by design than any genuine hatred of the new guy on the block.

That being said, the touches of body horror and bloody gore are pretty pleasing for a rather simple horror premise. There’s admirable darkness to the assembly of its many scary and gruesome sequences, where I kinda adored the craft of the picture. It’s a film that warmly won me over in its third-act surprise twist that doesn’t shake the foundation of the story but takes advantage of the witch’s unique premise.

The Wretched plays on pretty predictable grounds, but has enough quaint creeps to be a genuinely enjoyable indie-horror. Rarely does it scare or fully enrapture with its simplistic characterization of a small-town terror. Often, however, it manages to turn out something wickedly wonderful in its modest direction.

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