The Wretched - Grimmfest 2019 Review & Interview with Director Brett Pierce
Directed by The Pierce Brothers
Ben (John-Paul Howard) is a teenager with a broken arm struggling with his parents upcoming divorce, having to spend a summer with his Dad (Jamison Jones) and discovering he already has a new girlfriend. Chaos starts, however, when Ben notices strange happenings at his neighbour's house (taking inspiration from Rear Window). He watches their every move, growing more and more certain something isn’t right. Something much more sinister is happening.
You know from the opening title sequence in which we see abandoned toys left to wilt in the rain, to the babysitter who stumbles across something she probably would never have envisioned, inside the white picket fenced surroundings she’s used to, that the tone is set. Ben is not your typical teenager in a horror film, he’s both level headed and rational, even if he does make some silly decisions. He is stuck spending his days working at his father’s marina, facing backlash from the local ‘cool teens’ and bonding with co worker Mallory (Piper Curda). The Pierce Brothers (Brett Pierce & Drew T. Pierce) do a great job of introducing characters and allowing us to care about them, something which most horror films bypass altogether. The way in which the story unfolds is both clever and at a reasonable pace, following Ben as he unravels the mystery which starts next door and unfurls all around him.
The Pierce Brothers, who directed the 2011 Deadheads, have crafted a genuinely chilling story that will keep you guessing throughout. Thrown into a sense of uncertainty, you're always trying to figure out the mystery surrounding the main figure of terror. Where this movie succeeds the most is through imagery and FX. Horrific make up effects, visual effects and sounds created for 'the witch' are creepy, disgusting and downright fun. It offers a unique story with ties to old folklore stories, but given a brand-new spin, in turn creating their very own fairy tale for people to be terrified of for years to come.
The first two acts are a masterclass in tension, story-telling and horror. I will say there is one twist which I didn’t see coming. I did question myself a couple of times but never guessed it. Both clever writing and directing are to thank for this, with the reveal propelling Ben into the final face off. The third act itself is where the film lets itself down a little, your generic monster vs hero ending (giving me The Descent vibes). But while it does slow the pace down a little, it doesn’t stop this film from being an absolute gem and one that I would highly recommend. The Wretched engages with the audience through spectacular FX, a likeable cast and a villain who has so much more to offer in story, cinema and horror.
Bravo Pierce Brothers, Bravo.
I also had the pleasure to speak with the film's Director Brett Pierce about his experience on this film and his creative process.
How did you go about envisioning the witch, in the sense of her appearance? Any influences?
She was heavily based on multiple witches from various legends and folklore. Primarily her look is based on Black Annie and Jenny Greenteeth but is also designed to be a creature version of the classic "crone" witch of which we see in many Halloween decorations every year. The design was achieved by my brother and the FX artist Eric Porn of Bitemares, Inc. Drew did initial characters designs while Eric would render 3D sculptures of his interpretation. Once we all agreed on the look Eric than began the physical sculpt of the Wretch. It was a fantastic collaborative experience. Eric would send us pictures of his sculpture in progress and Drew and I would give notes by drawing atop the images on Drew's Cintiq.
The FX were brilliant throughout, did you have any inspiration from other films?
A ton. Fright Night is always a staple. The use of practical effects in that film took the storytelling to the next level and that was our guiding light. We like our monsters to be tangible and we we're so happy with what Eric had accomplished. When you have something that believable and visually striking it just grounds the horror so well for the audience and the performers. Also we we're very lucky to have Madelynn Stuenkel who portrays the Wretch. She molded into the make-up and brought so much more to the character by the use of her movement.
You have a lot of young cast members, how do you find the casting process due to it being a horror film and the ordeal they have to go through?
Drew and I sat through every audition and watched every submitted tape. We we're to paranoid not to. In the case of John-Paul Howard (Ben) and Piper Curda (Mallory) we had actually cast them off of taped auditions which can be a little scary. They we're both not based in LA at the time but they clearly just made sense to us from the get go after seeing them. Its always a must for us to make sure that who we bring onboard on any film is going to be a positive force on set. After speaking with both of them over the phone and Skype it became very clear what wonderful and down to earth people they both were and that we had made the right choice.
The pace of the film is something a lot of horror films don’t understand or get right. The Wretched is well paced and suspenseful, how did you find the film making process for this movie?
We prepped as much as we could possibly get away with. We storyboarded the whole film trapped in a snow buried cabin for a month with our DP, Conor Murphy, and tried to imagine all the edits ahead of the shoot if possible. We we're always pouring over the script, the shot list, and the edit throughout the whole process in an attempt to pull off a good pace and tempo for all the horror and suspense beats but also the more character driven scenes. We tried to be as brutal as possible on ourselves in the edit but In the end we just kept following our gut and tried to make the film we wanted to see.
Ben is such a great character and not your typical arrogant teenager that we see in ‘most’ horror films, did you find the casting process for this character difficult? Like we said he was cast off of a taped audition but it was the part we we're most fearful about not finding the right person. His character has a lot he's working through emotionally in the film and that can easily start to annoy an audience if a teen seems to "angsty". We needed someone who could walk that line of likability and could sell the drama without taking it too far. John-Paul was the perfect match Ben. He just owned it. As we edited the film we just kept being amazed by how much he gave us to work with. The twist with a certain character was something I didn’t see coming, was the reveal always going to propel Ben into the final battle? Was this something in the original script/idea?
Well we try to keep this under wraps because as soon as you say there's a twist people look for it, It was in there from very early on and was almost removed a few times but we loved it and felt that we had to give it a shot because it excited us so much as storytellers. It just took the movie to a different level for us so it had to be in. It was definitely an element we put a lot of work into to make it work but we're glad we did.