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.

When EVIL Knocks at the Door, Don’t Answer It. “The Strangers” reviewed! (Second Sight / Blu-ray Screener)


Kristen and James return home late from a wedding reception to James’ isolated family home off the main road. The joyous occasion becomes an afterthought when an unprepared Kristen declines James’s subtle engagement proposal outside the reception venue, straining their once jovial relationship into uncertainty of where it stands now. Before the couple discuss relationship next steps, a strange knock on the door around 4am becomes the initial stirrings of a clouted atmosphere brimming of paranoia, fear, and confusion when three masked strangers menacingly toy with the couple. The fight for survival in the dark early morning hours will determine their fate against strangers compelled to kill them just for the sake of killing.

Call me 12 years behind as I catch up on getting caught up into the brutal home invasion thriller, “The Strangers,” from writer-director Bryan Bertino. “The Strangers” has been panned by critics for being nihilistic and fraudulent with no plot twist In a premise that pits two innocent people against three violent hungry intruders, finding common ground with Wes Craven’s more sadist-driven “Last House on the Left” and the Charles Mansion murders of the late 1960s while also pulling harrowing experiences from Bertino’s own small town suburbia. As Bertino’s debut film, “The Strangers” has become something of a cult film over the years with discussion upon Bertino’s themes, especially the act of pure random violence upon another person, that has become more relevant today than ever. Universal Pictures also saw an intriguing quality illuminating in it’s filmic soul and farming it out the spec to their offshoot, genre label, Rogue Pictures, in association with Vertigo Entertainment, Mandate Pictures, Intrepid Pictures, and Mad Hatter Entertainment.

Bertino’s script attracted it’s leading lady in “Heavy” and “Armageddon’s” Liv Tyler who had to stretch her vocal range to the max in order to scream her head off like her life depended on it. As the disenchanted Kristen, Tyler brings beauty and tenderness to the heartrending woe of the newfangled corroding relationship Kristen and James are experiencing while serving as a stark contrast to the barbarism oppressed upon her. Opposite Tyler, and equally as disenchanted stricken in character, is “Underworld’s” Scott Speedman as Kristen’s beau, James, who difficulty to express himself in an unpredictable moment is greatly felt. Tyler and Speedman exact a crystal clear your head moment of awkward silence, frustration, disappointment, and heart ache that’s suddenly ripped from them, stolen in a away, by masked psychopaths. We’re never privy to their faces, keeping the mystery alluring and suspenseful, but the three actors, Gemma Ward, Kip Weeks, and Laura Margolis, exude a haunting and chilling performance of random acts of violence.

While performance wise is solid, the character logic struggles slightly for a viewer to embrace their actions seriously. I find that when the couple, being the only two terrorized people isolated in a quiet house, split up thinking the act as a sensible way of survival and is completely logical when, in reality, is hell to the no it isn’t! Three versus two together is better odds than three versus two split up, but, thinking outside the box, what if the split is emblematic of their dissolving relationship; no longer will Kristen and James do things together that make them more stronger and more accomplished as a pair. “The Strangers” can be indicative of many themes, whether instilled by Bertino or not who had complete control over the script and direction. Is there a theme of nihilism? Yes. Is there a theme of grim, unprovoked violence? Yes. “The Strangers” purposefully deviates from conventional cinematic means and outcomes, leaving that gutted feeling of dread and psychological torment in an unsullied, overwrought terror film. That uncomfortable pit in the back of your throat is the thick tension your unable to swallow in every moment of breathtaking fear; a feeling that’s very real when the hot flash sweat, producing adrenaline beads down your hair-raised skin, senses danger. The sensation is the welcoming byproduct Bertino’s “The Strangers” fosters toward being a legacy cult film, pivotal by all means as a rightful modern horror.

For his first feature run, Bryan Bertino has captured fear in a bottle with is shocking home invasion thriller, “The Strangers,” that’ll receive the Blu-ray treatment from a Second Sight limited edition release come September 28th. The UK release will be a region B playback format and presented in a widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio that’ll include the theatrical cut and the extended cut of the film. Limited to only 3,000 copies, the package will include a soft cover book with new essays by Anton Bitel and Mary Beth McAndrews plus stills and behind-the-scenes images and also include a poster with new artwork. Tomandandy’s floating and distinctive one tones, stretched and strung with the occasional interweaving string and percussion, score is not anything I’ve heard from them being unlike their sonorous scores from “47 Meters Down” or “Resident Evil: Afterlife” that meld a static-electronic rock, sometimes injected with adrenaline, to the action or inaction of the scene. Since a Blu-ray screener disc was provided for review, there will be no critique on the A/V quality. However, the screener did come with special features, including new interviews with director Bryan Bertino, editor Kevin Greutert, actress Liv Tyler, and the masked Pin-Up girl, Laura Margolis; however, be aware and warned that all the interviews segue into the sequel, “The Strangers: Prey at Night,” so there might be some spoiler moments for those who haven’t seen the sequel…like myself. Plus, rehashed special features from previous releases that dive into the same material the interviews provided, but also some exhibits shot locations, technical challenges, and some other brief interviews with cast and crew. A pair of deleted scenes are also available, but, surprisingly, the release won’t have the cut extended climatic finale you hear a lot of about in the new interviews and was in fact filmed, which would give the masked characters more depth into their methodology. Yet, the overall bonus material is vast with wealth of insight from the lengthy new interview material coursing through ever facet from the story’s genesis to the current reception of a film after little more than a decade ago. “The Strangers” is an advocate for the underdog independent narrative told through the eyes of a major studio willing to market and take a chance on pure terror over just putting butts in theater seats.