Something Derivative This Way Comes: The Pierce Bros. More Wicker than Wicked in Witchy Thriller
The dead aren’t so much evil in The Wretched, the highly polished sophomore effort from directing brothers Brett and Drew T. Pierce, as they are covetous of pricey lakeshore property. Or so one could assume for the motivation of the witches lurking in the woods from the duo who last tackled zombies with their 2011 debut Deadheads.
A highly derivative narrative seems even more deadened thanks to their switch to a teenage boy’s perspective, but some impressive visuals are sometimes enough to distract from the predictable proceedings (and comparably, there’s more texture here than the even more obvious Witches in the Woods from Jordan Baker, which arrives on digital and demand only a week prior). Still, one will be hard pressed to remember the fine-tunings of the plot or the serviceable if wan presence of its performers once the credits roll.
Much of The Wretched seems to be a missed opportunity, given how its scenario and lead teen John-Paul Howard suggest the potential inverse of The Stepford Wives (1975). What’s curious is the significant amount of time spent with Ben and Liam, who are mere archetypes of the ‘father and son at odds over divorce’ ilk and still are lacking character development beyond basic attributes. It would seem some of this screen time would have been better served to explain the origins of these particular witches and their reappearance (the film opens with a scene from thirty-five-years in the past and then fast-forwards to another past timeframe marker “five days ago”).
Instead, this plays like the terrestrial version of the 2004 Julianne Moore thriller The Forgotten, except with even less mystery (William Friedkin’s 1990 obscurity The Guardian also comes to mind). On the other hand, special effects technician Stephen Imhoff and visual effects supervisor John Brennick deserve credit for some magical moments—if only this thin-skinned, not-rated genre effort had also managed to strike some kind of palpable ambience or tone than The Wretched might have stirred the nostalgia of classic YA Disney films like Watcher in the Woods (1980) or Return to Witch Mountain (1978).