A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Wretched is a horror movie about an evil tree witch that steals children -- and the intrepid teens who try to set things right. It has plenty of violent scenes, including guns and shooting (a man shoots himself and kills a dog, off-screen), dead deer guts, knives and cutting/slashing, blood, children in jeopardy, a bully, and an evil creature. There's flirting, sex talk, and kissing (by both adults and teens), and a married couple initiates sex but is interrupted. A man is shirtless, and both a woman's and teen boy's bare rear ends are seen. Language includes a few uses of "f--k," "s--t," "dumbass," and more. Teens drink at a party, and a teen gets very drunk. Someone talks about a teen stealing Vicodin, and adults drink beer and smoke cigarettes. This is a brisk, fun homage to older movies, with its own sense of style.
What's the story?
In THE WRETCHED, a flashback shows a teen babysitter encountering a witch who's devouring a young child. In the present day, troubled teen Ben (John-Paul Howard) arrives to spend the summer with his divorced dad, Liam (Jamison Jones). To Ben's dismay, he also meets his dad's new girlfriend, Sara (Azie Tesfai). Ben gets a job at the marina and bonds with fellow misfit Mallory (Piper Curda). Meanwhile, he thinks he sees some kind of monster next door. And then Ben notices the neighbors -- Ty (Kevin Bigley), Abbie (Zarah Mahler), their young son, Dillon (Blane Crockarell), and a baby -- start acting strangely. When Dillon fails to show up for a sailing lesson, Ben follows up, and Ty claims never to have had any kids. Ben and Mallory decide to investigate, discovering a tree that could be the dwelling place of an ancient evil.
Is it any good?
Familiar but fresh, this brisk, gory mashup of horror and teen adventure movie is inspired by many 1970s and '80s favorites, but it's less a slavish copy than it is an enthusiastic, adoring tribute. The Wretched has touches that recall the works of Steven Spielberg, among others. And brothers/writers-directors Brett and Drew T. Pierce are the sons of Bart Pierce, who worked on special effects for Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead. These bits and pieces are assembled with such finesse and with so many elements mixed together so well that it feels like a seamless whole.
Howard's appealing performance as Ben is a huge help. At times, it feels like he's channeling Michael J. Fox's clumsy confidence from movies like Back to the Future. And Curda offers some bright, spunky moments as the funny Mallory. The monster is a good one -- genuinely scary, even though it borrows some movements and sound effects from other movies. But the real reason The Wretched works so well is that it's rooted in nightmarishly primal fears between parents and children: fears of abandonment, issues of trust, etc. That underlying dread effectively drives the storytelling, with its focus on characters rather than jump scares.
Talk to your kids about ...
What's the appeal of horror movies? Why do people sometimes want to be scared?
How does divorce impact families? Why is Ben so angry about the idea of his father having a girlfriend? How does the family talk about this situation?
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