The contemporary dictionary definitions of wretch: “an unfortunate or unhappy person” and “a despicable or contemptible person.” While an exploration of either meaning fill volumes of viable stories, these parallel descriptions have been simultaneously applied to one film, exploring the duality through a preternatural scenario involving three unwitting friends and their adverse effects on one another. Wretch is a mess – a twisting tangle of plot threads and contrivances that all borderline brilliance or settle into disappointing mediocrity.

Riker (Riker Hill), Caleb (Spencer Korcz), and Abby (Megan Massie) are three young adults who coexist in a rather intensive and toxic friendship—regularly getting under each other’s skin. During a drug-fueled trip to the woods, something goes awry, and Abby insists on having seen something dark and dangerous in the shadowed forest. As time goes on, as the friendship is torn asunder with their collective guilt and jealousy plaguing their every interaction, a supernatural presence haunts their minds. As they fall further to paranoia and fear, the true natures of each are revealed and amplified.

as the friendship is torn asunder with their collective guilt…a supernatural presence haunts their minds.”

Wretch falls into (what I call) The Reaping class of films – a movie that is hellishly vague and intensely convoluted to near incomprehension, while managing to recoup and bring all its elements back together at its finish, resulting in a satisfying conclusion. Brian Cunningham’s screenplay is scattershot with sharp and nuanced plot elements and well-built twists that manage to keep the experience elevated. However, there also exists throngs of cheap dialogue and nonsensical action; all swirled up in tired and uninspired genre cliches. The characters constantly interact in a propulsionless manner, with the plot meandering about before eventually reaching a point where something can finally happen. The extreme unevenness is directly reflected in the acting prowess of the cast, which resides on a similar sliding scale of quality.

“…scattershot with sharp and nuanced plot elements and well-built twists…”

Each player contributes moments of raw power, as well as high-school film=class project levels of ham, so it’s hard to follow the film while being regularly taken out of the experience. However, when gripped, the film keeps its hold on the audience quite well. Cunningham’s cinematography is initially quite frustrating and unsteady, though it eventually grew on me by the end – there are very few shots in the film that aren’t obviously handheld, usually whether the scene is kinetic or not. These choices (when viewed in full context of the film) manage to make their point as to why the film was shot this way and can be firmly effective in key moments, but overall it could have been executed far better. The mixed shot compositions and angles are mostly saved by Cunningham’s clever editing and transitions, which makes me believe the film could have been much stronger if camera responsibilities were handed off to someone else.

Ignoring the strong Paranormal Activity influences, Wretch has interesting takes on its genre elements, playing with expectation and audience assumptions in unexpected ways, especially when actively applying its narrative twists. While too much of a pigsty to be considered a solid film, Wretch is definitely worth checking out for its snapshot moments of sublimity.

Wretch (2018) Directed by Brian Cunningham. Written by Brian Cunningham, Janel Nash. Starring Riker Hill, Spencer Korcz, Megan Massie, Savannah Marie, Chris Wilson.

5 out of 10

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