REVIEW: THE WRETCHED spins a tale of teen alienation with backwoods body horror with mixed results


Channeling films like Abel Ferrara’s 1993 BODY SNATCHERS with elements of CRITTERS and THE LOST BOYS, THE WRETCHED entertains with an interesting premise but feels more than a bit overstuffed.

In the past couple of years, films dealing with the idea of pagan backwoods body snatchers have been a bit en vogue in the indie horror world. From A24’s 2019 spin on the genre, THE HOLE IN THE GROUND, to other recent body-horror fare like 2017’s THE HOLLOW CHILD and 2018’s THE NANNY; the idea of an otherworldly changeling creature that can impersonate someone after luring them underground for food is a good vehicle for exploring ideas related to alienation, loss of a sense of one’s identity or family, and the growing pains of separation and loss. Directors Grett and Drew Pierce explore this in their take on the genre, THE WRETCHED, which follows a young teen protagonist named Ben (John-Paul Howard), spending the summer with his father Liam (Jamison Jones) at the dockside marina his father runs. His family is separated, with his father having a new girlfriend named Sara (Supergirl’s Azie Tespai), against his son’s wishes as he wants his family to come back together. Ben is alienated, having a broken arm to show for his acting out that landed him a summer away from his mom. His only friend at the marina is Mallory (Piper Curda), a townie who has a crush on him, but whom Ben is seemingly oblivious to due to his personal issues. He befriends a local neighbor’s son, Dillon (Blane Crockarell), who is very distrustful of his mother, Abbie (Zarah Mahler), after having gone in the woods and almost lured to away by a voice in an ancient tree that mimicked her and seems to be following his family. His fears are confirmed when an ancient changeling witch breaks into their home and seemingly makes off with Dillon’s younger brother and morphs into a doppelganger of Abbie intent on making everyone forget about Dillon’s baby brother and Dillon as well.

On paper, this seems like a really interesting premise, sort of taking the idea of the missing children from THE LOST BOYS and combining it with the sense of unbelief given to children’s fears in films like CRITTERS. The angst and alienation felt by Ben’s teen character echoes that felt by Gabrielle Anwar’s character Martie in Ferrara’s 1993 remake of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, which THE WRETCHED borrows heavily from, most notably a disturbing setpiece where a young son walks in on a creature finishing its transformation into a fully nude replica of his mother. THE WRETCHED does benefit from strong performances from its leads, especially Howard, Jones, and Curda. The film also plays host to some great practical horror effects and great cinematography to give more gravitas in the scenes with the creature. That being said, there’s a bit too much on the plate here in terms of characters and set-ups that takes away from the whole. Howard’s Ben spends a lot of the film being the outsider and feuding with the spoiled rich kids of local boat owners which makes his connection with Curda’s Mallory a secondary concern. Their relationship largely plays as one-sided. Moreover, the film introduces a couple of big twists halfway, one that is confusing regarding the changeling’s nature and another regarding its powers that largely don’t work. This isn’t helped by a twist ending that seems to be there to just be a twist ending. Too many twists and contrivances tend to spoil the film a bit, but the film is paced briskly throughout so that you don’t really have time to think about it too much as it’s happening and the production design and performances keep you locked in until the film’s climax.

THE WRETCHED is an entertaining body horror film by way of a teen angst drama that largely works. The Pierce Brothers’ have a great eye for horror setpieces and I look forward to more from them, but with a tighter script with a more focused protagonist. If you’re a fan of films like INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, THE GUARDIAN, and A HOLE IN THE GROUND, this is likely right up your alley.