The Devil’s Tongue is a Powerful, Influencing EVIL. “The Dark and The Wicked” reviewed! (Acorn Media / Blu-ray)



Siblings Louise and Michael Straker return home to their farmland house when their terminally ill father becomes bedridden.  A long time alone and isolated before her children arrived, Virginia provided suitable care for their father up until the voices started.  Lurking in between the shadows around the rural home, a menacing presence wedges itself into an already splintered family spirit as the harbinger of death coming for their father’s soul.  The influence of voices and grim visions tatter Louise and Michael resolve, testing their unconditional love for family and moral obligations, but evil can be very persuasive the closer their father comes to his end. 

The battle grounds of losing oneself during the verge of loss has commonly been a recurrent topic amongst indie films.  For filmmaker Bryan Bertino, the concept feels deeply personal.  “The Strangers” and “Monster” writer-director’s latest discomforting horror film, “The Dark and the Wicked,” uses Devil speak in mass, detrimental volumes as an allegoric device for the internal deconstruction of family, capitalizing for his tale the use of his family’s rural Texas farm house written as a threatening locale of isolation and the tenebrous unknown.  “The Dark and the Wicked’s” paganistic undertones heavily perceive a dissipating family structure’s disconnect from not only God but from the community who has been all but absent from coming to the fictional Straker family aid.  The 2020 released film is produced by Bertino’s production company, Unbroken Pictures, alongside Shotgun Shack Pictures (“Hurt”), Traveling Picture Show Company (“The Blackcoat’s Daughter’), and in association with Inwood Road Films.

To play characters accustomed to the rural lands of the Texas outskirts, “The Dark and the Wicked” required a range submerged with leisurely movements, a Lonestar draw, and to, of course, look good in plaid and Wrangler jeans.  The cast that emerged was nothing short of spectacularly precise in fabricating the lives of remote lives rural Texans, opening with a Texas-born Julie Oliver-Touchstone (“Bounded by Evil”) sewing dresses in the barn, tending the farm’s goats, and chopping produced in her white nightgown as who will be the catalytic mother, Virginia Straker, that passes not only the 24-hour hospice care to her children but also all the beneath the light misery that drives her terrified.  The girth of the story revolves around, Louise, “The Umbrella Academy’s” Marin Ireland, and Michael, Michael Abbot Jr. from the upcoming “Hell House,” as sister and brother who return back home upon the news of their bedridden father (Michael Zagst).  At this point in the story, where we meet Louise and Michael for the first time, a shrouded background puts a delectable side dish of mystery into making them initially interesting, but over the course of the 96 minute runtime, the enigma dissolves around why Louise no longer works from the Postal Service and what’s stringently being shied away from the thick layered division between the siblings from being close to one another.  The impending standoffish goes unspoken, never comes to a head between them as like the unfolding of “The Strangers” where Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman unravel and expose their marital struggles with the invisible wall between them before, and even in the midst of, being terrorized.  There’s something there that isn’t being part of the exposition or coming back around when the Devil comes really calling for their father’s doomed soul.  Instead, Ireland and Abbot simply assimilate well enough into their falling into farm life dynamics as the sister who must shoulder the responsibility of hospice care and the brother overseeing what could be considered man’s work of handling the duties of raising livestock.   We also get some messed up supporting second fiddlers to execute Satan’s handywork with performances Lynn Andrews, Tom Nowicki (“Conjurer”), Mindy Raymond (“Bigfoot Wars”), and “The Walking Dead’s” Xander Berkeley channeling his best Julian Beck’s Kane performance as a sinister Priest making a house call.

Bryan Bertino has a stillness about his films. Their creepily quiet, stirred in a somber stew of macabre, and utterly deranged in a nihilist coating. What appeals to me about “The Dark and the Wicked,” as well as “The Strangers,” is Bertino’s gift to deliver powerful fatalist realism. His stories couple earthly family drama with otherworldly malevolence stemmed from the deeper affects of prolonged relationship breakdowns that literally assigns a demonizing blame on the supernatural for people’s own crumbling failings. Another aspect is the godless presence wholeheartedly felt throughout from the Straker’s loud and proud proclamation of atheism to the lack of religious artifacts. Michael nearly tosses the priest out of his keester just for making checking and noting his mother’s recent unbeknownst connection to God to which Michael took great offense. This leads into the Straker’s lack of community connection as they seemingly are adverse or are agonized by those who wish to help and those who rather seem them burn under the guise of the malice presence. Goats are thematically prevalent to the story, especially when the shadowy Wicked hides amongst the herd, like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Goats are often associated with Pagan beliefs, such as with the deity Baphomet, and the evils marked upon them by cultures all around the world and by having the Straker farm be a goat farm is more than just coincidence. “The Dark and the Wicked” brings chaos and confusion much like any circumstances where one or both parents die and all the burdens, all the consequences, and all the pure emotional baggage that comes with death is passed to the children whether the Devil is involved or not. When broken down rudimentary that decline of hope and overwhelming grief can cause a great amount of destruction for any family and even extend to friends with suicide being heavily portrayed in the film. Bertino masterfully touches upon every collateral damage output leaving no one spared from death’s, the Devil’s, hopeless hold on them.

Filled with frightening imagery, plenty of toe-curling suspense, and a loud silence of utter despondency, “The Dark and the Wicked” is a must own for any horror fan and, luckily for you, Acorn Media International just released the Bryan Bertino film on Blu-ray in the UK in alliance with horror’s favorite streaming service, Shudder. Listed as region 2, but more accurately a region B in Blu-ray format, the PAL encoded release is presented in a widescreen 2.39:1 aspect ratio. If there was one word to describe the comprehensive picture that word would be dark. Bertino maintains an eclipsing cinematography through hard lighting, matted lifeless colors, and a reduction tint to give it that extra gloomy blackness. Cinematographer Tristan Nyby’s first collaboration with Bertino is also the first debut into the genre field and Nyby comes out on top with an ability to show just enough, whether through shallow focus or obscured wide shots to always keep the depth and range of the unknown factor alive and frightening. In regards to the Blu-ray quality, “The Dark and the Wicked” has little to offer in details not because of the lack there of but because much of the film is shot in the dark, a fine midnight black with little-to-no wish or noise, and dim lighting . Facial details do appear slightly soft as you can’t make out the blemishes or even skin pores, but the intentional flat coloring steers much of that away from the senses. The English language DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound is a boost of jumpscare ambient effects. The range and depth finely pitch the position of well-timed scares, especially when the strung together bottles, glasses, and cans rattle in a discordance. Dialogue has lossy muster that makes discerning characters’, especially Michael or his mother, Virginia’s, Southern draw. English subtitles are optional. Special features include only a Fantasia Q&A with actors Merin Ireland and Michael Abbott Jr that dive into their characters quite a bit and into Bertino’s morose mindset. Bleak and genuinely personal on a whole other level, “The Dark and the Wicked” is quintessential truth when talking about the Bryan Bertino Americana horror film and, believe you me, expect more devilish descriptors that’ll shock you.

One Hundred and Twenty-Nine Men, Two Ships, and One EVIL Beast Trapped Together in Icebound. “The Terror” reviewed! (Blu-ray / Acorn Media International)



Departed from English ports in 1845, two exploration sailing ships, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, sought to chart a northwest passage through Artic waters above North America.  Bound for King William Island with over 120 men between the two vessels, the traversers found themselves icebound as the Winter months froze the arctic waters completely and solidifying their positions within one large ice mass.  Their story doesn’t end there as months pass, even through the summer, and winter’s firm grip shows no sign of rising above zero degrees, sweating the brow of the few experience Arctic officers.  To top off their troubles, a vicious polar bear, or some kind of supernatural beast connected to Innuit people, hunts down and ravages a few unfortunate Royal Navy seamen.  Low of provisions and spirits, a combination of infinite winter madness and trembling fear weigh heavy on the seafaring fellows frozen in an icy cold Hell. 

Straight from the ill-fated expedition in British maritime history, the mystery surrounding Captain Franklin and his crew’s death and disappearance in the Arctic is given the hypothetical explanation and supernatural treatment in season one of the AMC series “The Terror.”  However, the tale is more relative to the adapted novel of the same name written by American author Dan Simmons who specialized in science fiction and horror.  Adding elements of a monstrous presence stalking them in the shadows of a bleak tundra, Simmons’ historical fiction turned television series blurs the lines of non-fiction and fiction with chilling atmospherics and the indelicacies of human nature when necessities for survival are pushed to the extreme and are in short supply.  “The Terror” is backed by a strong executive producer team in Ridley Scott (“Alien”) and notable historical television producer David W. Zucker (“Mercy Street,” “The Man in the High Castle”) with writers Max Borenstein (“Godzilla vs. Kong”) and Andres Fischer-Centeno (“Under the Dome”) penning the screenplays with Tim Mielants, Edward Berger, and Sergio Mimica-Gezzan directing a total combined 10-episodes under the Scott Free Productions and Entertainment 360 flag. 

The AMC television thriller scores an amazing cast of seasoned English and Irish actors refined in their skills of becoming a part of the history their work reflects.  Chiefly surrounding the top three principle commanding officers, “The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover’s” Ciarán Hinds as Captain Sir John Franklin, “Underworld: Blood Wars’” Tobias Menzies as Commander James Fitzjames, and with a foremost focus on “Resident Evil:  Apocalypse’s” Jared Harris as Captain Francis Crozier, an unique dynamic courses through the speckled personalities of each commander in the face of duty for Queen and country and in the certain finality to their crisis from the God-fearing Franklin, to the command prodigy Fitzjames, to the more sage practicality of Crozier.  Each also have their own flaws that inadvertently put a blight on the already ill-fated mission of charting a passage through the frigid bleakness of the Arctic ice and how they interact with a doubt inching motley crew of novice and experience sailors, especially between the stark contrast of fellow principle characters in the amiable Harry Goodsir (Paul Ready), whose personality is reflected by his name, in confliction with the more menacingly conniving shipmate Cornelius Hickey (Adam Nagaitis).  Both Ready and Nagaitis perfect their roles in convincing the audience on how we should feel about moral compass as they become the nerve center that drives the tale of continual darkness.  Praiseworthy performances definitely go to the entire cast, that also includes Nuuk native and Greenlandic band frontwoman, Nive Nielsen as well as Ian Hart, Alistair Petrie, Trystan Gravelle, Tom Weston-Jones, and Richard Riddell, pinpointing and bringing to life the mid-19th century Royal Navy speak, look, and mannerisms that adapt over the length and breadth of “The Terror’s” forlorn themes of two ship’s crew stranded in what could be said is a strange and alien terrain that evokes madness and fear in the longer you reside. 

The information surfaced about Franklin’s lost expedition with the discovery of possible cannibalism evidence discerned in the early 90’s and, more recently, the found wreckage of both the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror within the past decade add insurmountable coils of surreal realism around the true tragedy of both ships when embellished supernatural elements of an Inuit spirit animal stalking, hunting, and ravaging the crew.  Simmons novel and the series go hand-and-hand story wise but pull visually inspiration from Sir Edwin Landseer’s painting entitled “Man Proposes, God Disposes” where one polar bears tear at what’s left of a ship’s mast and another swallows what looks like human ribcage remains in a surely more a powerful image that’s aligned with the series in the offering an outcome of when it comes to man versus nature, nature will unduly win on it’s own frozen turf. AMC and Ridley Scott undoubtedly knew how to showcase a character driven story where over the time relations build and deteriorate between crew, officers, and a mingle of both and in that stretch of time, the passing of time itself has seemingly stood still as the nights become longer, routines are made, and the ships are stuck on the ice like a warm tongue pressed against a frozen metal pole, but, in the 10 episode series, the story stretches over a nearly two year period and the production is able to connect together next scenes to the previous ones without having to address each and every moment or exposition enough information to avoid the explanatory segue. This method of filmmaking always leave a smidgen of unknown, leaving viewers like us on tenterhooks and in an agitated state that we’ll never fully understand or fulfill that missing part of the mysterious portions and lapses in time. The unfortunate real life story itself casts an alluring wonder and I would even go as far as maritime excitement even if stemmed out of tragedy; that’s how “The Terror,” affixed to the rising ice in an infinite frozen sea of stalagmites, dresses every episode with a less is more garb. “The Terror” endures for a long time in the mind set to replay the desperation and the poignancy of the character’s madness, fear, cold, hunger, and the rest of their godawful bad luck.

A story relished with new fright and unsullied violence with every repeat viewing is now available on a two-disc, region 2 Blu-ray from Acorn Media International. The 10-episode series is presented in a widescreen, 16:9 aspect ratio, on two PAL encoded discs with a total runtime of 453 minutes. The image pails in comparison to the perilous subject matter with a more softer, hazier picture than the harsh, snowy environment setting. Yet, I find that the subpar high definition not to be a complete distraction as much of story plays out in the dark or in the thick of flurries meant to obscure the eyes from seeing reality before biting your head off. Two different audio options are available on the release – a DTS surround sound 5.1 and a Dolby Digital PCM Stereo 2.0. Both tracks have high audio discernible marks as a well-balanced whole with the dialogue cleanly present, the ambient noise, especially the continuous wood creaking on the ships being squeezed by the ice, finely tongued for ever musket shot and snowy foley, and a respectfully insidious soundtrack that makes the body’s blood curl. Option English subtitles are available. I do think the bonus features are a little on the cheap side with only AMC’s behind-the-scenes commercial break segments making the cut on this release, complete with the AMC logo in tow, but the special features include Ridley Scott on “The Terror,” a look at the characters, the boat and visual effects, and concluding with an inside look at each episode featurettes. By the end of the last episode of “The Terror,” you won’t feel chipper, you won’t feel happiness for a long time; yet, you’ll want more and wished season 2 continued the story, but after an impressionable gnarly grand finale, “The Terror” season one is one of the best televised horror shows to come out in a very, very long time.