Ambience is everything in The Dark and the Wicked (2020), and director Bryan Bertino (The Strangers) has proven once again that a little can go a long way, whether it’s a single jarring image or unsettling sound.

Adult siblings Louise (Marin Ireland) and Michael (Michael Abbott Jr.) return to the rural family farm to be with their father, ill and bedridden, during his final days. But there is no peace in this supposedly tranquil setting. Their mother offers a less than warm welcome, insisting she doesn’t want them around and offering ominous utterances about how “things aren’t what they seem”.

As they settle in, Louise and her brother notice their mother’s increasingly odd behaviour and sense a strangeness about the house. They wake one morning to find a worrying amount of blood on the kitchen cutting board, and a search of the property leads to a devastating discovery in the barn. 

The Dark & The Wicked 5With the days of the week literally ticking away, grief-stricken Louise and Michael struggle with hopelessness, futility, and rising fear. But they are determined to care for and protect their father, even as a sinister presence toys with them through startling hallucinations, unnerving nightmares, and gruesome violence.

The shadow of death hangs heavily over the farmhouse, from the mounted animal skulls that decorate its walls, to the family’s patriarch displayed neatly beneath the bed sheets, a frail body lying in wait of its final breath. No matter the time of day, darkness clings to its interior.

The family’s fate ultimately plays out under a truly stirring soundtrack that relies on the stillness of grief to enhance its allusions to the evil that surrounds them. Here creaking doors bring unwanted visitors and eerily whistling winds carry wolf cries and overlapping whispers. If the slowly encroaching music cues or sudden clangs of the farm’s alarm chimes don’t have you on edge, the disturbing images of terror and slaughter will. 

9 blood-smeared sheep out of 10

This film was reviewed as part of our coverage of Fantasia International Film Festival 2020.