Archive | February, 2023

They Wait in the Dark (2023)

10 Feb

Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2
Reviewed by Tanner Smith

To begin my review of Patrick (“I Am Lisa”) Rea’s new micro-budget horror film, “They Wait in the Dark,” I would like to mention how refreshing it is (for me, anyway) when a young child is terrified rather than enchanted by a mysterious, ghostly presence. Does that annoy anyone else, when a kid in a horror film is too dumb to believe this is more than some “imaginary friend”? (Remember Lights Out? The film in which the kid is too scared to sleep at night because of his mother’s malevolent “imaginary friend”? Could we get more of that, please?)

Well, in “They Wait in the Dark,” young Adrian (Patrick McGee) has one strange encounter with an invisible force during his first night in an abandoned house; the following night, he meets it again and repeatedly shouts at it to “GET OUT!”

But, of course, the kid’s mother doesn’t believe there’s anything haunting this house except for bad memories. So, there they stay. Let’s see what happens.

Adrian and his mother, Amy (Sarah McGuire, The Stylist), are fleeing from Amy’s ex-girlfriend, Judith (Laurie Catherine Winkel). We don’t get a lot of backstory of what led to Amy & Adrian’s situation (thankfully, filmmaker Patrick Rea’s script keeps us guessing), but we do get an idea what they’re avoiding as we get the sense that Judith is abusive and unhinged and we also see how good she is with a knife, as well as what happens when one unfortunate trucker catcalls her. (Oh, and Amy is treating what looks like a stab wound at her side. Yeah, I think it’s safe to assume Amy & Adrian are better off without Judith.)

Amy reunites with an old friend, Jenny (Paige Maria), who helps them get refuge at Amy’s old family farmhouse in the middle of nowhere. It’s not Amy’s ideal hiding spot, but it’s also unlikely Judith will find them there. As more about Amy’s troubled past comes to light and her own parenting towards Adrian becomes questionable (for every moment she’s kind towards him, there’s a moment in which she’ll randomly snap at him), it quickly becomes clear to us (and to the kid) that there’s most likely something sinister dwelling in this house.

Who or what is to be feared the most? I love it when a supernatural thriller poses that question. It makes for a film that is as intriguing as it is disturbing, and “They Wait in the Dark” is no exception. The main reason for its effectiveness comes down to the character of Amy–most notably actress Sarah McGuire’s excellent performance as well as director-writer Patrick Rea’s careful guidance. Amy’s enough of a mystery to keep us wondering and enough of a human being to be engaging, and with more than enough complexities for McGuire to tackle head-on. It’s a remarkable character study.

When character and atmosphere share the same importance as terror and gore in a horror film is when I appreciate the filmmaker’s endeavors even more. (“They Wait in the Dark” was made for peanuts in rural Kansas. I can tell this was a labor of love for Rea and his cast/crew–and it looks great too, with help from cinematographer Hanuman Brown-Eagle.) But I don’t want to deny the fear factor either–for instance, the first (visible) sign of the haunting presence pushed me back into my seat the moment it appeared. (Very well-done jump scare.)

From the film’s mysterious opening to its eerie middle to its volatile finale, “They Wait in the Dark” kept me invested in these questions: which threat is to be feared more, whether Adrian will be safe or not, and even whether Amy is to really be trusted or not. I was not disappointed by the answers. And I was grateful to see that this film had a lot more on its mind than I was anticipating.