In horror, we can buy anything. Immortal masked madmen with a penchant for ruining teen sex parties. Disgraced prom queens committing mass murders with their mind. Alien blobs growing to the size of a building. You name it, we’re cool with it, as long as we care about what’s happening. But sometimes, characters are just so awful, caring becomes a more grueling task than it should be. Say hello to Wretch…
…Written/directed by Brian Cunningham (Loss Prevention), Wretch is a pseudo-found footage film which revolves around a weird love triangle between three friends that gets significantly worse after they venture out to the woods for a drug-fueled night. Unable to remember what happened, the three begin attempting to piece together the events of that night, all while confronting their own guilt, jealousy, and a supernatural presence that threatens to expose who they really are.
Who they really are turns out to be complete sleaze balls. After some forced exposition from Riker (Riker Hill) at a party, in which he bashes his best friend Caleb (Spencer Korcz), on Caleb’s camera no less, and then makes clear his interest in Caleb’s girlfriend, Abby (Megan Massie), again, on Caleb’s camera, we find Caleb sneaking off from a passed-out Abby to cheat on her, despite the fact that he sees Riker recording him…on Caleb’s damn camera! This is how we’re introduced to these characters, and while there’s nothing wrong with starting them off at their lowest point as people, we can’t be expected to feel much sympathy for the horror to come if they only get worse from there.
Long story short, Caleb is a cheater. And not just any cheater, a heartless, big ole drooling monster of a cheater with an utter lack of respect for anything female. Riker is an awful friend, who from minute one until the very end, hates Caleb, and expresses zero reasoning for how he even begins to consider Caleb his “best friend”. Abby, by far the most likeable and sympathetic of the three, since you know, she actually has real feelings, is also a cheater and a liar, doesn’t seem to love Caleb all that much, and has a bit of a disdain for Riker. So, what is it that makes any of these three likeable characters who we want to follow? Is the anticipation of their much deserved doom a good answer?
The most damning problem with Wretch is that, moments after an effectively eerie opening, we are dropped into the middle of this odd triangle without anyone worth giving a damn about. These people are awful to each other. Like I said, Abby is the most sympathetic, as she is also the most tragic and victimized, forced into this situation by two men who wear the faces of the enemy in the MeToo movement. A couple of chauvinistic, rapey pigs who can’t be split in two by the demonic entity of Wretch soon enough. But even though Massie is great in her role, Wretch consistently draws the focus away from her and her disintegrating sanity, to Caleb’s own “worries” and jealousy, as if we’re supposed to give a shit about the guy who was cheating on her within the first few minutes of the film. Caleb’s mistrust of Abby and Riker rings hollow, because there is no sense in feeling bad for a guy who thinks his girlfriend betrayed him, when he has done so, and continues to do so, as she grows more unstable from nightmares and visions of a creature with red eyes.
It isn’t that Wretch doesn’t have an interesting premise or characters to work with. Revealed through flashbacks to the traumatic night in the woods, we learn that Riker has a fear of going crazy, while Abby is scared of being labeled a slut, both fears stemming from their fathers. These two have a shared bond in their fears, but rather than playing that out, Riker is made out to be an asshole to Abby as well, falling into the category of “fuckboy”, aka, dudes who just pretend to care about women to get laid. Does he really love her? Maybe, but you could argue if he did, he wouldn’t treat Abby as harshly as he does. I’m spending a lot of time on character here, but it’s because the relationships between these three are so toxic, so deplorable, that we have no one to root for outside of Abby, who becomes lost about halfway through the film. Even Tony Montana in Scarface, one of the greatest anti-heroes ever, has sympathetic moments that make him feel like a well-rounded person, but we just don’t see much of that in Wretch.
As for how Wretch is shot, Cunningham brings a different style to the table that I honestly cannot decide if I appreciate or not. Found footage is becoming a tired gimmick, we all know that, and so, if you’re going to use it, it should be done to a degree like Unfriended: Dark Web, which uses a unique approach to the style. Wretch fails when it comes to the found footage aspect, as there often isn’t any reason to be recording what’s happening, and the characters too often seem oblivious to the camera, such as cheating on each other under the lens, that it begins to feel like a bit of a tool and not organic to the story. What makes Cunningham’s film interesting here is the way in which he flip-flops between found footage and standard camera work. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but whenever we’re not in the POV of the “found footage”, Cunningham often chooses to have the camera feel distant from our characters. They are framed as far away, or at awkward angles, giving a voyeuristic sensation to the viewer. It’s possible this is just a happy accident, but the viewpoint almost feels as if we are the monstrous entity which is slowly creeping in on Abby and Caleb’s relationship, watching as they’re torn apart, which creates an unsettling vibe that is always present in the film.
So, while the characters may leave a lot to be desired, Wretch is like a worm gradually burrowing its way under your skin and making you tingle. Cunningham does well at building tension, teasing the audience as we creep around corners and run through hallways, expecting something to be there and often disappointed, or relieved, to see there’s nothing there. Wretch is a slow burn that doesn’t barrage the audience with jump scare after jump scare, but instead takes it’s time to sufficiently unnerve you before delivering that final blow. Taking the tried and true lesson from Spielberg’s Jaws or Scott’s Alien, Cunningham keeps his terrifying creature in the dark, displaying it through shadowy silhouettes and quick, jolting visions, saving the best reveals for last, even if we never do get the money shot of the beast that we all want.
The creature itself inspires curiosity, since it seems to represent the triangle’s fears, jealousies, and especially, resentments, yet Wretch falters a bit by never giving us enough to really chew on, keeping things too vague and in the dark. Even our characters seem to lose interest in the narrative, as Riker at one point goes on and on about his mom missing while Abby is supposed to be in the midst of having a possessed breakdown, and Caleb, despite finding bloody footprints and strange spirals drawn all over the house, continues to assume everything Abby is experiencing is all in her head. At one point, the script introduces a psychological concept known as the “Wendigo Psychosis”. Problem is, we don’t hear about until there’s twenty minutes left. And do we explore that concept? Nope. We’re told it’s a rare psychosis sometimes experienced in the woods, and that’s it. Cool. So, is the creature a wendigo? Maybe. Is everyone just crazy and drunk off of rage-ahol? Possibly. Would it have been better if the audience had a little more lore or background or motive of the creature to chew on? Absolutely.
Wretch has all the makings for an eerie found footage flick, and Cunningham certainly has the directing chops to do it, but ultimately falls apart through the characters and the audience’s disconnection with them from the beginning. Caleb, Abby, and Riker’s motivations are all messy, and even eye-rolling at times, to the point where Wretch itself is disgusted with them. If you can take anything away from Wretch, it’s this: Don’t do drugs, kids, or you’ll get demon fucked and have an insufferable personality the rest of your life.
By Matt Konopka