A man and woman sitting next to each other in the dark while Ben Nagy reviews 'Wretch': Don’t Smoke That Stuff in the Woods.
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Ben Nagy reviews ‘Wretch’: Don’t Smoke That Stuff in the Woods

It becomes you or you become it,. Or maybe it’s the other way around?

‘It Becomes You or You Become It, or Maybe It’s the Other Way Around’

In the flick Wretch, by writer/director Brian Cunningham, we get a slow-burn character study that takes its time to get to a gutsy finale. The decision of the three twenty-something main characters to go out into the local woods to partake in some orange powder that one of em claims was used by indigenous peoples to hallucinate ends up getting them into the beady sights of an eight-foot-tall creature with red eyes and red-and-black skin the color of rotted meat. Or maybe it’s all in their minds, cause with those non-regulated substances, you can never really tell…

But rather than the creature popping out and immediately biting all their heads off in a stalk-and-slay scenario, most of Wretch is spent dealing with the deteriorating relationship among the trio caused by that fateful night. Their lives and relationships weren’t that great to start out with — they’re low on cash and pretty mad at each other, judging from their interactions at a party — and things don’t get any better after they go puffing the powder.

None of the characters turns out to be particularly likable. We learn the lead guy, Caleb, has a habit of sleeping around and broadcasting it to his channel on the web, which appears to be his source of income. This makes us feel sorry for girlfriend Abby, but she sticks with the increasingly jealous Caleb even after finding out he’s been streaming their sexy time as well as his other encounters on his channel. Meanwhile, we find out that Riker, the guy who supplied the drugs, has the hots for Abby and acted on those impulses (or did he?) in the woods after they toked up.

Ben Nagy reviews 'Wretch': Don’t Smoke That Stuff in the Woods 1
Wretch photos courtesy of Thoughtfly Studios

So maybe there’s a monster involved, or maybe the drug they smoked messed with their heads. The timeline messes with ours and gets a little funky — the opening scene has Abby arrested, then we get a flashback to the inciting incident in the woods, then a month passes, then the trio gets back together to make sense of what happened in the woods, then we get some more flashbacks to the time in the woods plus some nightmare sequences, then some more time passes. Eventually we arrive back to the arrest that we saw at the movie’s start, Abby gets committed into a facility and is held for an undetermined time as a result of that arrest, and we see her physical deterioration in addition to the mental toll the ordeal has taken.

One other thing that might lead to confusion from a viewer’s standpoint apart from the chronological hippity-hoppity that happens, is that the camera perspectives alter a bit too frequently. From scene to scene, we don’t quite know if this is one where the characters are whipping out the camera to document the proceedings for themselves or their internet viewers, whether they’re doing it to spy on one another, whether we’re getting a creepy creature-cam perspective or the typical audience-film relationship. Wretch ends up working best when the first-person footage gimmick is dispensed with and it gets from Point A to Point Beast.

Speaking of beasts, the question arises: What took it so long to get a bead on em?

Did you ever read that old Sesame Street book featuring everybody’s blue furry pal Grover, where you keep turning the pages and get closer to the revelation of the “Monster at the End of the Book?” Wretch is constructed in a similar manner.

We get some hints of bloody, cloven-hoof prints and a symbol that shows up periodically that gives us clues that the monster might not all be in Abby’s and Riker’s heads. After an hour’s worth of non-linear chronology, business starts picking up, and we get the blood flowing.

For some viewers, things might not pick up fast enough, even though Wretch offers a slice of Blair Witch and a dash of It Follows in the lead-up to the Monster at the End of the Movie. But visually and thematically, the final third ends up being the strongest part — once we find out why Abby was arrested and she’s eventually committed, we’re full speed ahead and the creep factor starts climbing.

All three of the main actors did some heavy lifting — each carried weighty, emotional scenes and all had dialogue-heavy interactions. This led to a lot more telling than there is showing in the first hour or so. Wretch is talky right up until the end, so it might be too slow for those who prefer a more kinetic and visceral monster/possession flick, but pacing’ll be something that filmmaker Cunningham will improve upon as he gets more genre features under his belt. The last scenes show great potential and are worth the wait.

Two and a half stars.

You can check Wretch out on iTunes — they’ve got a special running right now: $4.99 to buy and $0.99 to rent. It’s also available to stream through Amazon, Google Play and Vudu and is available on Blu-Ray.

For more information about Cunningham’s Thoughtfly Films, visit www.thoughtflyfilms.com.

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