Support independent horror films! Malevolent Dark’s quest to cater to the ravenous horror fans around the globe demands periodically stepping outside the safe confines of major studio bloodbaths. Independent horror films increasingly stand toe-to-toe with the industry. Brian Cunningham released Wretch in 2018. He describes it as a “psychological monster movie”. I heard about Wretch from Brian on Twitter. The film is available through several formats including multiple streaming sources for a paltry sum of $0.99. Consider checking it out here.
Wretch is produced by Thoughtfly Films, from Kentucky. Thoughtfly Films specializes in independent horror films, psychological thrillers and action films. Thoughtfly currently has several other films available for streaming and purchase.
A Story of 3 Friends
Wretch begins with the subtle shake of a hand held camera. The scene involves a house party. A man named Caleb, played by Spencer Korcz, tries to convince his girlfriend Abby, actress Megan Massie, to make out with another female friend. In the corner, seethes Riker, Caleb’s best-friend. Riker Hill plays the role of Riker in the film. The trio of Abby, Caleb and Riker form the center of all character gravity. This proves important because the characters and the triangle of drama between them, providese the foundation for this film.
The handheld feel of the film persists for the duration of Wretch, even in scenes where the characters could not possibly be holding the camera. The shake of the camera is subtle and retrained for most of the film. Brian Cunningham uses the handheld technique camera to dramatically add to the foreboding feeling of tension throughout the film.
Hallucinogenic Herbs in the Woods
The plot revolves around an innocent trip to the woods. Caleb, Abby and Riker take an afternoon trip to smoke a hallucinogenic herb and lose themselves. They awake the next day with major gaps in their memories. Something happened in the woods that profoundly affected Riker and Abby. While the trio attempts to piece their broken memories together a malevolent force threatens to unravel the facades that protect then from themselves and each other.
The Monster in the Woods
Soon after returning from the trip Abby begins to have nightmares and visions. All of the visions share a horrific detail, a large demonic monster with cloven hooves and reddish skin that looks like raw meat. The monster’s red eyes penetrate Abby’s thoughts. In a private exchange, Riker confides to Abby that he sees the monster too. But in his vision he, Riker, is the monster.
As time progresses, the monsters prevalence in the lives of Abby and Riker grows as does their detachment from reality. Where the beast goes, it leaves a a spiral shaped sigil behind. Eventually, the beast pulls Caleb into the inner circle. More and more, Abby spirals into a pit of despair. From the outside she appears to be losing her mind when in fact she becomes more and more in tune with desperate nature of her own reality.
The Monsters Within
More striking than the monster, the characters assembled by the Director repulse as their true natures reveal themselves. Their innocence erodes in real time as the film progresses. Caleb demonstrates his true self in the opening frames. After making love to Abby he quietly slips into bed with another woman as Abby sleeps. Slowly the film reveals Caleb’s rampant infidelity. It is just a matter of time before Abby finds out the cruel extent of his behavior. Abby finds that Caleb not only uploads his escapades with other women to the Internet, but he also that he posts videos of he and Abby having sex via a hidden camera.
Riker, a brooding incel, pretends to be friends with Caleb. He secretly harbors unrequited love for Abby and resents Caleb’s grip on her. On the trip to the woods, Riker unconscionably slips Caleb drugs that cause him to pass out. Riker uses this window to seduce Abby in her moment of weakness. In her drugged state, she engages in sex with Riker. Of course none of this changes Riker’s long-term outlook with Abby. He continues stoke the flames of resent until the consume Abby as well. Eventually his burning furnace of hatred explodes.
Abby provides the sole sympathetic character in Wretch. She loves Caleb, but knows she can’t trust him. Even when she knows everything, she can’t leave him because everything that defines her hopelessly intertwines with Caleb. She clearly regrets her tryst with Riker. Her mistake makes Riker ever more jealous of Caleb and his resentment boils over to consume Abby. Caleb and Abby’s relationship deteriorates as he can sense that Riker and Abby hide a dark secret.
Hopelessly caught in the gravitational heaves of poisonous men, Abby mentally deteriorates. At first she questions her own sanity. Eventually she pushes her sanity away. The deleterious web that ensnares her brings out the monster from deep within her. Abby falls irrecoverably into the abyss.
Psychological Horror, The Art and Its Limitations
Psychological horror remains one of the more difficult genres to execute successfully. The best of breed deftly incorporate a supernatural element to carry both the characters and the audience off of the rails of reality. The trouble is getting reality back on the rails to tightly close the narrative. So many movies effortlessly descend into madness, but most fail to claw their way back to cohesion.
Psychological Horror movies like Carnival of Souls take a trip through a bizarre alternate universe. Eventually is backs itself into a corner and must show its hand all too literally to get back to reality. Others like Don’t Look Now go all the way to the edge, but resort to an ending so off-kilter that the mystery evaporates and gives way to incredulity. To be clear, both of these fine films are still worth watching even they are case studies in the hazards of psychological horror.
The Psychological Horror of Wrest
As a psychological horror movie Wrest handles these challenges better than most, but still suffers some setbacks. Brian Cunningham capably avoids jumping the shark at the end. Still, Wrest fails to sufficiently fails to close the loose ends on the origin of the monster and whether or not it exists in the flesh or only in the mind. Furthermore, Wretch fails to adequately explain the significance of the strange spiral symbol that monster leaves behind.
Fortunately, Brian Cunningham creates a parallel story with enough fortitude to fill the gaps. The characters are strong and their web of hurt and deception so deep that the reality of the monster becomes a secondary detail. In fact, the whole monster story possibly works better as a metaphor for the rotting self that each character experiences through their own arc. That is where the genius of Brian Cunningham comes through. When the metaphorical significance carries the film, the director has truly created a true psychological horror experience.
Latex and Corn Syrup – The Monster (SPOILERS)
Throughout most of the film, Cunningham offers only glimpses of the monster. He either gives a brief glimpse, too quick to really process or he obscures visibility with shadows and camera. Only one scene reveals this horrid creature in full view and even that scene dissipates in flash. With finger on the ‘pause’ button I caught a glimpse and that glimpse did not disappoint.
Pale and wretched, the beasts lips are pulled back as if the monster chewed them off itself. However, everything about the monster subtly appears human. The teeth are the flat omnivorous teeth of man. The head and position of the ears invoke the image of man. However, there is one major difference. In only one shot, Caleb catches a blurred glimpse of the creature at the end of the hall. It stands on the bestial legs of a giant ram punctuated with cloven hooves. The effect is menacing and the artistry outstanding. The creature is far too interesting to not be seen, but unfortunately sometimes the artistry horror demands obfuscation.
Another trademark of psychological horror involves crippling tension. This film exudes tension from every pore. The scenes feel dark and claustrophobic. The music bristles the the hair on the back of the neck. The subtle shake of the handheld camera paints an overarching sense of chaos. Periodically Brian Cunningham tightens to the spring so tight that opening a door or a rustle in trees triggers an anxiety attack.
In one masterful scene, Abby stumbles around the apartment in the dark. The tension is high and visibility is low. Abby finds the monster groveling in the corner. She runs, but the monster pursues close behind. Barely, she slams the bedroom door behind her before the creature crashes into the door, banging, again and again. Abby, screaming inconsolably, cowers in fear until suddenly the door bursts open to reveal Caleb.
I’m afraid these words will not do the scene justice. I found it incredibly effective at creating tension before exploding into the horror haunting Abby. Skillfully, Brian Cunningham transitions from the monster to Caleb, cementing the metaphor of Caleb’s monstrosity.
Wretch, A Solid Psychological Horror Film
Brian Cunningham’s film is not perfect. For instance, the narrative structure struggles with coherence throughout the film. Certainly the psychological horror style drives some of that. Even with that in mind, the narrative could still tighten up. The acting and dialog struggles in some areas, although I found myself pleasantly surprised at the performance of Megan Massie. The acting was not bad across the board, but Hill and Korcz struggle with their share of awkward moments.
So, it’s not perfect, but it’s pretty damn good. It fulfills its prophecy as a psychological horror film by delivering on serious high tension scares. The film presents an unraveling that feels authentic as it slowly transpires. When taken metaphorically, the punch line feels rather profound. I felt that Brian Cunningham’s use of darkness coupled with slow push-ins and off center camera angles demonstrates technical competency. The soundtrack keeps the audience on pins and needles for the duration. I see real potential in his work and look forward other releases.
Support Independent Horror Films
Wretch champions the cause of independent horror films. Ready availability and affordable technology makes this a growing segment of the industry. This drives the creation of more and more undeground films. This leads to innovation, and innovation is the mother of horror greatness. As a lifelong horror fan, the rise of underground horror films will continue to drive the genre forward in a positive way. Like it or hate it, films these films breath life into the world of horror!
Wretch (2018) - Deeply Disturbing Psychological Horror - Malevolent Dark
Director: Brian Cunningham
Date Created: 2018-01-01 00:00