Time and time again, I have stated that movie monsters aren’t nearly as scary as the demons that live within the human mind. But what if a monster planted those demons into an otherwise mild-mannered person? Wretch is a psychological “anti-found-footage” thriller that gives a first-hand look of the supernatural sending its victims down a spiral of insanity.
The story centers around a love triangle between Abby, her overbearing boyfriend Caleb, and his depressed best friend Riker. Caleb is very self-absorbed; he is constantly filming his daily life, claiming it’s for his “channel,” but just uses it as an excuse to be a creep behind the camera. Sure, he may be cheating on Abby with countless women, but that doesn’t stop him from being controlling and jealous every time Abby wants to have a private conversation with Riker.
“Wretch is a psychological “anti-found-footage” thriller that gives a first-hand look of the supernatural sending its victims down a spiral of insanity.”
But their banal lives are about to take a turn into the deep end when Riker proposes that the three of them camp out in the middle of the woods and smoke some unnamed hallucinogenic powder. But the whole drug trip is a ploy to roofie Caleb so that Abby and Riker can have a moment alone with each other. The next morning, Caleb wakes up, convinced he had such a wild night that he can’t remember any of it. The three friends return to their homes and back to their normal routines. However, something has definitely changed. Abby is waking up screaming, disturbed by something she saw in the woods. It turns out that Riker is having similar nightmares, but has no memory of what he saw.
As the film progresses, we are given glimpses of that night in the woods. Slowly, it’s revealed that Abby and Riker came in contact with some supernatural entity that has followed them back home. Abby’s mental state is gradually deteriorating; she falls into trances and obsessively draws the same mysterious red spiral. Caleb is unsupportive, preferring to hang out at the strip club than deal with the problem at home. It’s only when things turn violent that he realizes it can no longer be ignored.
I was initially under the impression that the entire film would be a found footage format similar to The Blair Witch Project, and for the first 20 minutes, it’s exactly that. The camera gets handed off from character to character to get a different perspective but that concept is quickly abandoned. The camera follows characters over their shoulder, even when they’re alone. Yet it still has that shaky handheld quality to it. There are other shots where the scenes are shot from odd angles; some are low to floor, others are slightly peaked behind walls or looking in through windows, as if the camera was held by an unseen voyeur. And then others linger from the corner of a room like in Paranormal Activity. Near the end, the camera quality improves dramatically, and the shots become more cinematic. I found this all very confusing.
On occasion, Caleb will film himself doing a video confessional for his vlog, to show his transition from asshole boyfriend to concerned lover. I’ve always found the video confession as a bit of a crutch. The character should be able to convey how he is feeling, without having to explain his emotions directly to the audience. Show not tell, to quote my acting school teachers.
“From top to bottom, it is a very indie productions though Megan Massie as Abby deserves a nod for convincingly portraying psychological trauma.”
I felt that director Brian Cunnigham should have committed to one or the other. Either make it a purely found footage film or not at all. The true mystery and horror lies in what isn’t captured on film. That being said, I’m glad it didn’t completely fall into found footage clichés. There was no moment when a character looks directly at the camera during an intense scene to scream “HOW CAN YOU BE FILMING THIS RIGHT NOW? WE NEED HELP! PUT THE CAMERA DOWN!”
It’s fairly obvious that Wretch was made on a shoe-string budget ($125,000 according to IMDB). There isn’t a huge cast, and consists mostly of the three core actors. Though some expense must have been spent on convincing a few secondary actors to appear in the nude. It comes off as a film that was made among friends and a pile different cameras. From top to bottom, it is a very indie productions though Megan Massie as Abby deserves a nod for convincingly portraying psychological trauma.
“Wretch is an honest effort in making a horror with a serious tone on a small budget.”
The locations are limited to the woods, Caleb’s apartment, Riker’s apartment, and a hospital, with minimal effects. Most of the violence occurs off screen and we normally only see the aftermath. At some points, a hulking goat-like monster makes an appearance in someone’s field of vision, but always out of focus. This is actually a clever device, because it gives the impression that the beast is within the character’s mind, and not physically in the room. And if it were in focus, we just might easily see how homemade it really looks.
For a film that’s being marketed as “Blair Witch on acid,” I found it doesn’t deliver on either of those promises. The drug trip in the woods was a squandered opportunity to get really weird and experimental, and should have been pushed farther than a solitary scene of Abby and Riker staring bug-eyed into the camera. Wretch is an honest effort in making a horror with a serious tone on a small budget. It doesn’t give way to camp or farce, but its drama fails to inspire much investment from the viewer.