Review: Frustratingly Familiar, Witchcraft in The Wretched Barely Casts a Spell

In any horror movie, whenever there are strange symbols carved into the sides of trees or the same said symbol made of twigs hanging from string in a basement, you can almost always bet that some level of witchcraft is afoot. From sibling filmmakers Brett and Drew Pierce (Deadheads) comes The Wretched, the story of a teenage boy named Ben (John-Paul Howard), who is dealing with this parents divorce and being shuttled between them. And there’s apparently an evil force that comes out of the woods, perhaps looking to take over the bodies of local residents, steal and eat their children, and then mess with their heads so that the parents don’t even remember they have kids, and thus never report them missing. It’s actually the perfect plan, if you remove the eating of children part of it.

The Wretched
Image courtesy of IFC Films

Ben is currently visiting his father (Jamison Jones) for the summer to work at the family marina, assisting boaters and flirting with co-worker Mallory (Piper Curda). Ben is having trouble adjusting to life with dad, especially when he finds out dad has a new lady friend (Azie Tesfai). But those issues seem petty compared to what’s going on with Abbie (Zarah Mahler), the woman living next door with her husband (Kevin Bigley) and their young son, who goes missing right after he starts to realize that something isn’t right about his mother. He tries to explain his suspicions to Ben, but then he not only goes missing but neither of his parents seem to even know that they have a child, leaving Ben to not only solve the mystery of the missing boy but figure out why his parents act like Ben is crazy for even bringing it up.

Ben suspects something supernatural is at the center of this strange happenings, and he and Mallory set out to uncover the truth about these skin-walking creatures that can take on the form of humans, for the most part, but not their personality exactly. The Wretched (a great horror-movie title, by the way) has a few moments of genuine creepiness, especially when Ben pokes around in the woods or other dark corners of the town looking for various signs that witches may be behind the child vanishings. Nothing about the movie is particularly unpredictable, though there are moments when paranoia becomes the driving force as Ben is never quite sure who’s on his side and who has been turned or put under a witch’s spell.

The film doesn’t really bother to dig much into the characters’ lives beyond the scope of this story, although the hesitant relationship between Ben and Mallory is both sweet and knowing about the perils of getting together just for a summer. Ben has something of a dark history that is discussed but never really dealt with in the context of the rest of the goings-on. Perhaps the best thing about The Wretched is the creature design of the uncovered witches (if that’s what they are), which is only revealed to the viewer in fragments throughout the film. But what we are able to gander of it is impressively icky, if not all that scary. Horror fans will find a great deal of the movie frustratingly familiar, while those dipping their collective toe into the genre just to try something new in these troubling times will likely be underwhelmed.

The film is available now via On Demand and on most digital streaming platforms.

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Steve Prokopy
Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet
Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for
Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and
filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a
frequent contributor at /Film ( and Backstory Magazine.
He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently
owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for
the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer
for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the
city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.


  1. The Wretched is actually about a folklore creature called Slip-Skin Hags that are kinda like vampires, but feeds off of the victims breath, soul, or life-force of the victim. Just like vampires, if she does not return to her skin by sunrise, she will die. So this movie isn’t really about “witches” persay, but Hags. A hag can have connotations of “witch”, though it can also mean a kind of malevolent fairy/spirit in folklore. Heres a link to a description of what a Slip-Skin Hag is, going deep into detail about the lore and trust me, once you read it, you’ll have a better understanding of The Wretched.

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