I was very excited to see The Wretched, a new horror take on Rear Window, about a teenage boy facing off with a thousand year-old witch who is posing as “The Woman” next door. I love horror movies and this one was getting some strong early reviews, which made me doubly excited, as horror films are too often dismissed by critics, and seeing an indie project get some positive attention was something that I wanted to support.
Now that I have seen the film, I still want to support these filmmakers (a brother duo: Brett and Drew Pierce) as the shot composition is very strong, the acting is good for the most part, and there is a lot to like about the film. Ultimately, though, there were far too many plot holes and issues in the story for me to give this my full recommendation.
But before we get into the many issues with the film, let’s talk about what this film was actually about:
This film follows Ben, a high student with a shady past, who is shipped off to stay with his estranged father for the summer. His Dad owns the dock that Ben works at, has a nice house that Ben lives in, and has a new girlfriend that Ben hates. Sounds like a typical, boring summer, right?
See, in his downtime (that he has a lot of) Ben spies on the neighbors. And this kid makes creeping look like an Olympic Sport:
First, he watches his next door neighbors have sex. Then, he chases a mysterious creature into their home in the middle of the night. And, to top it all off, Ben builds a relationship with the couple’s young son, a kid named Dillon, who Ben is teaching to sail at the docks.
As Ben continues to spy on his neighbors, he begins to suspect that something is very wrong with the wife (Abbie, Dillon’s mother) because of her strange behavior, haunting presence, and because her own son is so terrified of her that he hides away in Ben’s home.
Ben thinks that his neighbor has turned into some sort of creature (SPOILER ALERT – She has, and that’s not really a spoiler, as the writers/directors never even entertain the idea that Ben may be paranoid) so he enlists the help of his summer pal / love interest, Mallory, to help him prove it.
Now that you have the basic setup, here is what I enjoyed about this film, and what I think is commendable about this project:
The Gore – There were some great practical gore effects and some really good body-horror moments, as the Witch/Creature possessed and tormented her victims.
The Setting – A troubled teen spends a summer with his estranged dad, working on the docks and notices something strange going on in their neighbor’s house.
This is a setting ripe for drama and is isolated enough (the Dad and Teen live in a small community, far from the city or main town) to give the feel of helplessness when things inevitably go wrong.
Some of the Minor Characters – I didn’t mind the main character, Ben, as much as some did (I watched the film with some family members, don’t worry, I am still in quarantine as we all should be) but I thought the stand-out characters were the supporting roles.
Specifically, I liked Mallory, the love interest, because her character was witty, charismatic, and wild enough to really care for and about. I also really enjoyed the portrayal of Ben’s Dad (Liam) who felt real, and it was easy to empathize with the poor guy as he struggled to reconnect with his son and find his footing after a rough separation.
The Concept – A supernatural, horror-centric take on Rear Window – take my money! Seriously, since Disturbia was released in 2007, I cannot believe that we have not had more “Give Me the Same, Only Different” films that focus on a creepy neighbor that may-or-may-not be a killer, witch, demon, or other malevolent entity!
There is a recently released project titled The Wolf Hour with Naomi Watts, which I have not yet seen (though it is on my list) that appears to somewhat use this formula, but the idea itself is ripe for reinvention.
The things listed above were all enjoyable and well-done, but that is not enough to carry a full-length feature film, and, as I said above, this film was far from perfect and had several issues that really bothered me. So let’s talk about what the film could have improved on:
This film had plot holes galore, and I am going to focus on them, because I think it is very important for us, as writers, to be very aware of the message and focus of our stories. One way to avoid plot holes, or at least to mitigate the risk of having your script littered with them, is to have as many eyes on your work as possible. I know some people may hate notes, and others may be cautious of sharing their script, but the more trusted and experienced advice you can get on a piece of writing, the more opportunities you have to revise and rewrite before your script gets to an executive’s desk.
With that said, this film felt like an early draft of a script that was never revised or revisited before shooting started. Even though the writers/directors said that they went through about 12 drafts of the script, I think they could have used another couple of rewrites to really nail the story down.
These script issues could be due to multiple factors, one of which is that the writers were also the directors, and may not have had another objective voice on the set or during the writing process to guide them and make note of potential plot holes.
Now that the lecture is over, let’s get into some of the (many) plot holes and inconsistencies contained in the film (SOME SPOILERS BELOW – Though they are always denoted with a SPOILER tag)
1 – The name of the film makes no sense. What is Wretched? The Witch? The kidnapped children? The town that she terrorizes? It is never explained, hinted at, or even thematically relevant to the story.
2 – We open the film with a babysitter arriving at a house to babysit. The house is seemingly abandoned, so she calls her mom to check in. There are so many issues with this opening scene, such as:
- When the girl shows up, no one is in the house. Not just that, but no one answers her repeated calls. Yet she chooses to stay in the house, instead of walking right-the-fuck out the door and never looking back.
- While waiting for someone to show up, the girl calls her mom, but forgets to mention that the house is empty, forgets to tell her mom that she is alone in the dark house and getting scared, and forgets to tell her mom where she is going when she hears creepy noises from the basement and decides to check them out.
- She hears creepy noises from the basement and decides to check them out.
- The basement is pitch black, but she still continues to go and try to see what is making the horrible noises.
- She sees what is making the noises (The Witch, as it devours a dead human) and, instead of running for safety, the girl just stands there like a fool.
Oh, and there is also a text heading that lets us know this event is taking place 35 years in the past. And therein lies the biggest issue with this whole terrible scene.
Why do we start our film 35 years in the past? This babysitter is never mentioned again, nothing comes of this scene, and there is no reason for it to be in the film.
What connection or relevance does this have to our main story? Does the Witch come out every 35 years? Is she somehow connected to this particular house? Is she trapped in this location for some reason?
None of these and more are answered during the duration of the film and all of these questions were raised within the first 5 minutes – which is a good indicator of the problems with this story.
3 – What is the goal of the Witch? Does she need to eat children to survive? Because she straight up ignores some children, and lets Dillon (the neighbor kid who she has obviously targeted) run away not once, but multiple times after she has eaten the mother and taken her skin.
Now, this likely happens early on because the plot needs to happen and the writers thought that no one would care as long as they included some blood and gore, but I think that is terribly flawed thinking and that we should demand more from our horror scripts and films.
On this point, the Witch only eats some people (she seems to eat adults whenever the plot needs her to) but leaves others tied up in spider-web-things. There is no rhyme or reason as to which kids she chooses to save (other than the ones that are important to the plot) and which ones she eats.
And this raises the question: is the Witch saving some kids for later? Like, will she go into hibernation for another 35 years after her current summer kid-buffet?
4 – How do you kill the Witch? It is never explained, or even hinted at. They shoot her, which clearly hurts her, as she screams and falls down, but does not kill her. Then, they drive a truck into her face and it explodes in ’80s action movie fashion, but we then see that (SPOILERS) the Witch has possessed Mallory (or Mal, as she is referred to throughout the film) at the end somehow and is going to continue to eat the children in the town.
5 – (SPOILERS & MY BIGGEST ISSUE) How does the forgetting thing work? This is a major plot hole, and one that really bothered me. In the film, we learn that the Witch can make some people forget about their young children so that she can take the kids and eat them and not be noticed, however, this power does not really work, and is not consistent on multiple occasions:
- First, our hero, Ben, remembers that he has a little brother just in time to save him. So clearly the Witch-Powers wear off, or the writers just decided to throw logic out the window in favor of a “Big Reveal Moment” (At the end when Ben remembers that he had a little brother all along)
- Second, Dillon, the boy who was kidnapped, was signed up for boating lessons, and there is a paper trail of this young child being signed up for the lessons and the lessons being paid for by the parents.
- And everyone at the marina remembers this kid and is worried that he does not show up to his lessons. This means that her Witch-Powers must only work on people close to the Witch or people who she touches, but leaves a huge hole in the plot. There would be birth certificates, school records, medical charts, etc. and eventually people would start asking questions about the missing kid (s).
- In addition to that, the kids she takes still show up in pictures, which means that there are, presumably, dozens, if not hundreds, of images of these missing kids all over the town (at school, at home, at the boating lodge) that the Witch would have to get rid of if she really wanted to “disappear” these kids for good.
- She whispers in her victim’s ears to get them to forget, but what does that do? Is there a time limit on forgetting things? Do they eventually remember? They seem to be under some sort of spell, but that is also never explained or elaborated on.
6 – (SPOILERS) Can the Witch possess multiple people at once? If so, why does the Witch not kill Ben very early on? She has multiple chances with multiple people to finish him off, and not only him, but Mallory, too, who is on the Witch’s case after about 40 minutes of runtime.
If this Witch can possess/use multiple people in the town, that could be really interesting, but the film never really explores that, choosing instead to use it as a convenient plot device whenever they want to push the plot forward.
7 – On this point another very good question arises (originally brought up by 3WayStopSign) which is: Where did the Witch come from? And, more specifically, how did the Witch get into the deer at the beginning of the film?
For context, the neighbor mom (Abbie, I believe) and her child (Dillon) go on a hike in the middle of the woods. Dillon gets separated from his mom and wanders up next to the Witch Hole (which is what I am calling the Witch’s lair). He almost gets sucked in, but is stopped by his mom at the last second.
A few moments later, we see the mom and son drive up and park outside of their house, now with a bloody deer corpse hanging off the end of their truck. Side note, but how did the mom lift that deer? Did she have super Witch-strength?
And, why did the Witch pick this family? Was there something special about them? Was it random? Were they always doomed, or did they just happen to stumble upon the Witch as she got the munchies?
Anyway, in our main plot, the neighbor dad asks Abbie (neighbor mom) where she found the deer, and Abbie replies that she found it dead on the road. She then says that she wants to use the Roadkill-Meat for their supper, making a strong play for a Wife/Mother of the Year Award.
Then, the mom goes to gut the deer, but when she cuts into it, only black goo and sludge fall out. Instead of calling someone, or disposing of the corpse immediately, or cooking it up for dinner, she decides to leave the carcass dripping all over her truck and driveway. I guess she figures that, hey, someone else will clean it up if I leave it there long enough.
Later that night, we see two hands shoot from the corpse of the deer and the Witch’s human-like body emerges from the dead animal. Maybe this was a cool trailer moment, but it makes no sense in the context of the story and world that the filmmakers set up.
In fact, this raises so many more questions than it answers, such as:
How did the Witch get into the deer? Did she possess this deer (which means she can possess animals, which brings up a lot more questions) and then run the deer into traffic, hoping that some idiot would pick up the roadkill and take it home? Can the Witch teleport? If so, why teleport into the carcass of a deer? Just teleport into the house… or literally anywhere else.
8 – If the Witch had been doing this (by this I mean stealing and eating kids) for thousands of years (as the official logline/synopsis of the film claims) how has no one realized what she is doing yet? In relation to the above points, she does not do a good job of covering her tracks, and seems to stay in one place, so has the town just accepted that every summer (or even every decade or so) some of their children are going to vanish without a trace? Talk about apathy!
Plus, how many kids does this town have? She can’t eat all of the kids, because then there would be no town, and so how does she choose which kids are food, and which ones are safe? Is it random? Or is it some sort of eenie, meenie, miney, mo system?
I think my main issue with the film was not that there are plot holes, as all films require some suspension of disbelief and minor things can be forgiven, but the fact that this film doesn’t even try to address any of these questions and hopes that you won’t bother thinking about the story too much. This is lazy writing and is shocking to me that this version of the script ever made it past the development phase of production.
I watched this with several members of my family (as we are all in quarantine together) and half of us liked the film, while the other half… let’s just say did not enjoy the film. I fell into the camp that did enjoy the project, though I could not quite bring myself to love it, due to the aforementioned plot holes.
Thinking about this review, I decided to skip the obvious jokes, such as: This film is Wretched! Or, My One Word Review of this Film: Wretched! Because the film was not horrible, just very flawed and in need of a rewrite to iron out the issues.
And it is a shame, too, as I think the film really could have been something special, because they had all the right ingredients: good gore effects, a creepy monster, a fun, isolated setting, angsty teen drama, etc.
But, as Alfred Hitchock once said, “To make a great film you need three things – the script, the script and the script.” And that is where this film failed: the script.
Overall, I would give this a low, low RENT IT rating, but would recommend waiting until it comes to Netflix or Amazon Prime Video to put it on one night when you cannot find anything else to watch.
But what did you think of The Wretched? Did you love it? Hate it? Do you agree with my take on the film? Can you answer any one of the dozen plot holes that I listed above? Let me know in the comments below!
Want EARLY access to our videos, uploads, and movie/script reviews? Members get them FIRST! Follow this link to our Discussion Forum.