Movie Review: Horror served cold, “The Dark and the Wicked”

What is it with characters in horror movies and carrots? Always cutting up carrots, always with the same result.

And sheep. If it’s a tale set on a remote farm — heaven knows how often this happens — it’s always a sheep farm. The lambs! The bleating of the lambs! Make it stop!

“The Dark and the Wicked” is a terror tale trope ride from the writer-director director of “The Strangers,” gloomy and creepy and gory, if not exactly surprising or all that suspenseful.

When you’ve got carrots and lambs and crucifixes, you’ve set the table. We know what we’re getting for dinner.

Marin Ireland and Michael Abbott Jr. are siblings who’ve come home to see their bedbound dying father, and maybe help out their overwhelmed mother (Julie Oliver-Touchs). But Mom isn’t exactly welcoming.

“You don’t need to be here” and “I told you not to come” aren’t taken the right way.

“It’s gonna be OK, Momma.”

“WHAT’s going to be OK?”

Something is going on in the house, which is eerily quiet the way houses are in most horror movies. Nobody thinks to turn on “Jeopardy?”

Listening to the moan of the wind and the creaking of the wooden floors and walls would drive anybody nuts. Mom is a case in point. Remember the “carrots.”

The siblings are troubled long before tragedy strikes. A non-religious family, they puzzled by the crucifixes and Catholic votive candles. A clergyman (Xander Berkeley) seems to know Mother well. Or maybe not.

And the howling in the Texas night isn’t their handyman (Tom Nowicki). Something sinister is behind it, behind the visions the siblings see in the mirror, the shadows, on the ceilings.

Writeer-director Bryan Bertino takes a grim situation — a family waiting for a loved one to die — and slowly puts the would-be mourners to the test. What they’re seeing, who they’re hearing, can’t be real.

Ireland (“The Irishman,” “Hell or High Water” and TV’s “Umbrella Academy”) reacts to the supernatural in a way we might expect — profanity and screams, tears and terror. She lets us see Louise flinch at every shock, and unravel a bit with every new one she faces.

Abbott (“Hearts Beat Loud,” “In the Radiant City”) makes a different choice. His Michael recoils, but tamps down the terror. Internalizing it might be what a farm-raised man might do, especially a non-believer.

The leaden pace tends to make “The Dark and the Wicked” a slow-burn of a thriller, easing us into the next grisly shock. I can’t say that works to the film’s benefit, even if it’s been to build suspense, even if we’re meant to be developing empathy for the sister and brother powering through what was always going to be an awful situation, but that has turned demonic.

But the players sell it. And the jolts — an apparition here, a ghost in a shadows there — get the job done.

Leaving the source of this supernatural assault vague is a smart choice, a mysterious horror that can visit anyone, anywhere, especially if you live on a remote Texas farm with sheep and carrots.

MPAA Rating: unrated, bloody violence, smoking, profanity

Cast: Marin Ireland, Michael Abbott, Jr. , Xander Berkeley, Julie Oliver-Touchs and Tom Nowicki

Credits: Written and directed by Bryan Bertino. An RLJE/Shudder release.

Running time: 1:36

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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