I don’t watch many demonic possession subgenre horror movies, a byproduct of which is that I have avoided a lot of bad possession movies. I’ve probably missed a few decent ones, too. I’m happy to have made an exception for The Wicked Within, part of this year’s 8 Films to Die For series. It had enough suspense and intrigue to hold my attention, though those who enjoy their horror on the heavier side may be less interested.
A family gathers for the first time in almost a year to commemorate the birthday of Michael (Enzo Cilenti) and Hannah’s (Michele Hicks) young daughter Emma, who died in a home accident. Hannah’s sister Bethany (Sienna Guillory), their mother Jean (Karen Austin), and Bethany’s husband Luke (Gianni Capaldi) are joined by Hannah’s coworker Maggie (Sonja Kinski).
After a dinner table scene that sets up personalities and relationships, Bethany goes into Hannah’s room and becomes possessed. At first the family believes that it may be Hannah’s ghost but anyone who has seen a few recent horror films can guess that things aren’t that simple for Bethany. As the situation escalates, Maggie suggests bringing in her psychic acquaintance Samara (Sarah Lassez), and a Catholic priest, Father Patrick (Heath Freeman) is also consulted. The possessed Bethany exposes shocking secrets among the family members, creating rifts in trust, and people start dying.
The screenplay by Stephen Wallis, Shawna Waldron (both of whom also received “story by” credit), and Enzo Cilenti is generally well paced and does a reasonable job of delivering some startling and surprising moments. Its strengths are in showcasing the tension and fractured relationships of the family, and how the mind games played by the demonic entity expose the members’ weaknesses and tear apart the tenuous fabric of the family. Some frailty exists in some of the characterization and dialogue, though. The characters of Samara and Father Patrick are little more than caricatures, as the former spouts one liners with an attitude and the latter repeats lines from better-known movies in this genre. The characters also accept possessed Bethany’s accusations pretty quickly; mistrust begins instantly without any slow building toward it.
Jay Alaimo has 7 director credits and Stephen Wallis has 11 projects to his writing credit, but this is the first horror outing for both men. Their filmmaking experience is evident as Alaimo shows a skillful eye and confidence at the helm, and Wallis, as I mentioned, does well with the family psychology material. Their inexperience with horror filmmaking is also apparent, though. A little more on the spooky or shocking side of things would have elevated The Wicked Within to a higher level.
The acting is largely pretty good, though a couple of the performances come across as less impressive. I think this is more because of the material that the actors were handed, rather than lack of chops. Eric Roberts is thankfully low-key as Dr. Woods, whose exact job title is unclear. He seems to be a psychologist on a police staff who asks questions expected from detectives. He’s so low key, in fact, that a lesser known actor could have easily stepped in and done pretty much the same job, if not a better one.
Sienna Guillory is the standout performer in The Wicked Within. As Bethany, she needs to build up sympathy for her character in her predicament but also show just how vile the demon within her is. Guillory does both in a commendable performance. Sonja Kinski, daughter of Nastassja Kinski (no stranger to horror films herself), also gives an interesting performance as the mysterious, troubled Maggie.
The film has its share of contradictions and breaking of its own rules; for example, Father Patrick states that the Catholic Church hasn’t performed exorcisms since the 1600s but then gets permission from the local bishop to perform one. That’s a pretty quick resolution and one that goes otherwise unaddressed. Psychic Samara just disappears without any fanfare and then pops up later, cracking wiser than during her first visit, saying “I missed you guys” but not explaining why she left in the first place. A few unintentionally funny moments also occur, such as some too-obviously Freudian caressing of a phallic decanter.
Fans of more extreme possession fright fare who expect heaps of blasphemy, torture, excessive gore, and bucket loads of fake vomit from this subgenre will certainly find The Wicked Within too tame, too heavy on family drama, and too light on shocks. Those who aren’t big on that laundry list, however, or who don’t often delve into this subgenre and don’t mind an emphasis on the fragility of family, should find enough here to be entertained throughout.
The Wicked Within: (2.8 / 5)