In any ensemble horror film, there are a couple of ways that things can go - if the protagonists are sympathetic, they’ll generally band together and resist the evil preying on them, because looking out for your fellow human being is a sympathetic trait. You’ve also got the ones where the protagonists are basically selfish, obnoxious jerks who get picked off one by one. Personally, I don’t really think of the latter situation as horror, because there’s not much scary about cheering on the deaths of people you don’t like. Given the evergreen popularity of slasher films, I might be alone in that estimation.
But anyway. lately I’ve been really enjoying films that take people who are generally sympathetic and put them in a situation where they fail to come together, and everything goes bad as a result. Maybe they’re overmatched, maybe they’re deeply flawed, but even though they aren’t bad people, they just don’t or can’t get it together when it matters. Films like Hereditary, Green Room, The VVitch, and now The Dark And The Wicked, a creepy, atmospheric film about how a family’s inability to communicate or connect in the face of a tragedy allows evil to infect their lives and destroy them from the inside out
We open on a farm somewhere in rural Texas. It’s dark outside, not late-night dark, but early, early morning dark. This is a working farm. They raise sheep and goats, and chores start early. An old man lies in bed, hooked up to oxygen, unmoving. An old woman, careworn, works in the kitchen, softly singing a hymn under her breath. The house is modest, maybe even shabby. It’s quiet and still.
Until something unseen creaks a door open. Scrapes a chair across the floor. The old woman holds her breath, clamps her eyes shut, and wills herself not to look.
This is the Straker family farm, and siblings Louise and Michael have come home to look after their parents. Their father is gravely ill and wishes to die at home. Their mother has some help from their farmhand Charlie, but she’s trying to do far too much on her own. So, Louise and Michael have come home to say goodbye to their father and hopefully lighten their mother’s burden. You get the sense that it’s been a long time since the whole family was together. The siblings are worried about their mother - she seems overworked, run ragged, but that’s to be expected when she’s trying to keep a farm going and attend to her dying husband. She also seems…haunted. Afraid of something out there in the dark somewhere. But she doesn’t want to talk about it.
She doesn’t want to talk about the thing that comes in the night and whispers to her.