Michael Abbott Jr. stars as Michael in the horror film, ‘The Dark and the Wicked,’ a RLJE Films/Shudder release. Photo Courtesy of RLJE Films/Shudder.

What initially begins as a timeless ritual of loss and remembrance for a family that’s mourning the impending death of its patriarch is slowly turning into the matriarch and children being forced to instead contend with an imposing darkness. The surviving relatives are being plagued by waking nightmares and a growing sense that something evil is taking over them in the new horror movie, ‘The Dark and the Wicked.’

The drama’s uncomfortable and horrific situation, which shows how the family doesn’t truly become emotionally close until the evil begins to posses them, was created by writer-director Bryan Bertino (‘The Strangers’). ‘The Dark and the Wicked’s exploration into how people’s relationships with their family, as well as with religion, is now available to the public, as the feature is currently playing in theaters and On Demand and Digital, courtesy of RLJE Films. ‘The Dark and the Wicked’ will also be released on DVD and Blu-ray on December 15.

Set on a secluded farm, ‘The Dark and the Wicked’ follows a man as he’s slowly dying. Bedridden and fighting through his final breaths, his wife is slowly succumbing to overwhelming grief. To help their mother and say goodbye to their father, siblings Louise (Marin Ireland) and Michael (Michael Abbott Jr.) return to their family farm. It doesn’t take long for them to see that something’s wrong with their mother, though—something more than her heavy sorrow. Gradually, as their own grief mounts, Louise and Michael begin suffering from a darkness similar to their mother’s, marked by waking nightmares and a growing sense that something evil is taking over their family.

Abbott Jr. and producer Adrienne Biddle generously took the time recently to talk about starring in and producing ‘The Dark and the Wicked’ during individual exclusive interviews over the phone. Among other things, the actor and producer discussed how the on-screen sibling relationship that he already had with Ireland before production on the movie began, which they first created while they were shooting the 2016 drama, ‘In the Radiant City,’ helped build the authenticity in Louise and Michael’s connection. The performer and filmmaker both also expressed their gratitude that audiences have been embracing the movie’s overall message during its official release debut this month.

Biddle began her conversation by sharing how she became involved in producing ‘The Dark and the Wicked.’ She mentioned that she and Bertino have previously worked on other projects together, including the 2015 horror thriller, ‘The Blackcoat’s Daughter,’ during which time they formed a “professional relationship, which moved into a friendship. That was born out of a shared vision of where the genre wasn’t at the moment, and where we felt we wanted it to be,” she divulged. “In the ’70s, genre movies were beautifully and professionally made with really good actors, and they were full of tension.

“Then the genre turned to a more frenetic pace, both editorially and narratively. We missed the more deliberate and lingering products that came out of that era. That was our shared vision of what we wanted the genre to be,” the filmmaker continued.

“That gave birth to a partnership over the years that became a home for not only Bryan’s work, but also other people’s work, if they had material that resonated with us in that way. We wanted to be champions for that, and try to bring that to fruition,” Biddle added. “So Bryan and I worked together for a long time on getting this project started.

“We both also know Sonny Mallhi, who worked as a producer on ‘The Strangers,'” which Bertino also scribed and helmed. Mallhi “is also a writer-director, and he had just finished his own movie, (the 2018 horror thriller,) ‘Hurt,’ which Blumhouse had acquired. Bryan and I had both seen that movie, and Sonny had taken a unique production approach to it,” the producer further shared.

“So Bryan and Sonny were talking, and Sonny was telling Bryan about that movie. Bryan then called me and said, ‘We should try to do what Sonny did on a production level, but obviously through our own creative lens,” Biddle also noted. “So the germ for ‘The Dark and the Wicked’ was born out of that.

“Bryan is a phenomenal writer and creator, even when there are restrictions,” the filmmaker revealed. While the drama was made independently, the writer-director was able to use the budgetary limitations that come with making an indie movie. For example, “The house that’s in the movie is actually the house that Bryan often times writes in when he goes to stay with his family. The house is on his family’s farm and property.

“So as he was writing the script, the house served as the inspiration for the story. Then it turned into, we should actually shoot here, so Bryan asked his parents if he could shoot on the farm, and they generously and graciously said yes,” Biddle divulged.

Like the producer just mentioned, the drama was shot on location in Texas. She then delved into what the experience of filming ‘The Dark and the Wicked’ on location was like. “One of the philosophies that Bryan and I shared while going into this production was the importance of telling intimate stories in the horror genre. You can really explore the human condition and the complexities of the characters,” she noted.

“There’s an organic, visceral quality to locations that are real, and I feel that way about location shooting…With most of the films we have done, we’ve been sitting in the middle of the woods at 2 in the morning during a 30-day night shoot,” Biddle revealed. “I think there’s an intangible benefit you get when you shoot practically.”

Abbott Jr. agreed with the producer about appreciating the fact that ‘The Dark and the Wicked’ was shot on location, and discussed his experience of filming the movie on location. “I think anytime you have an opportunity to shoot a film in a place where it was written is great. The fact that we were able to shoot it on Bryan’s childhood farm was amazing. This is such a personal film for him, so he knew exactly what he wanted to show,” he shared.

“One of the things that initially drew me to the script was the fact that the location becomes a character in, and an important part of, this story. The fact that Bryan had such a connection to the location comes through in the final product,” the actor continued.

“Being in the middle of nowhere in the middle of Texas, where there could be no neighbors to be found, and no one had any idea that we were there or what we were doing, was great,” Abbott Jr. added. “This actually would have been the perfect film to shoot during the pandemic, because we built our own safe bubble there. We shot this movie about a year or two before the pandemic, but if we had waited, we could have actually worked through the pandemic.”

Besides appreciating the location where they shot ‘The Dark and the Wicked,’ the performer also cherished the bonds he had with his co-stars throughout the production. “Originally, there was another actress who was slated to play Louise, but there was a shift in schedule, so that actress had to drop out. So I went to the producers and Bryan and said, ‘You have to see Marin; let her read for this role,'” he divulged.

“There’s no other actress of my generation who I’m equally captivated by on screen as I am on stage as Marin. She has such a level of talent and commitment; she’s unmatched, in terms of actresses of my generation. We’ve worked together before, so to be able to work together again, and have more one-on-one time with her than we had on ‘In the Radiant City,’ was amazing,” Abbott Jr. gushed about his co-star. “Bryan was also thrilled that we had this sibling bond already built in, and also allowed us to deepen the relationship between Michael and Louise. The whole cast and crew were absolutely fantastic, and we really became a tight-knit family, which we still are to this day.”

Also speaking of the actors who appear in ‘The Dark and the Wicked,’ Biddle divulged what her involvement in the casting process was like. “We like to cast people who haven’t done a lot of horror movies. That usually brings a level of realism and realism to the movie, which we like. Then genre fans aren’t expecting the actors to play this type of character,” she divulged.

“I’ve been a huge Marin Ireland fan for awhile, but I was less familiar with Michael Abbott Jr. What’s funny is that Sonny Mallhi, the producer who I had mentioned before…had produced another movie (‘In the Radiant City’), in which Marin and Michael had also played brother and sister. So the fact that the brother-sister relationship was already built in really built a feeling of comfort for this film,” the filmmaker continued.

“So when Sonny told us about Michael and how he’s a phenomenal actor, we agreed,” Biddle also noted. “Marin has also done incredible work throughout her career; we’re so lucky that she agreed to do this.”

Besides already having that built-in sibling dynamic between the two lead performers, the drama is also a rare horror film that depicts how death tends to bring families together in close physical proximity, yet doesn’t necessarily create actual emotional closeness. Abbott Jr. feels it was important to explore that side of this universal experience that’s not often depicted on screen.

“I think everyone’s family is different. I think what we allow other people to see about our family aren’t always what those dynamics really are,” the actor noted. “Everyone has a different family dynamic, and families tend to come with damage. Family members also tend to come and go out of our lives.

“I think this being a post-pandemic film is going to affect the audience in a different way than it would have a year ago. I feel like during the end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021, people are going to take a lot less things for granted than we did than before all of this hit, especially with our families,” Abbott Jr. continued. “I think we’re going to realize how important it is to let people know how much we love them, and how much they mean to us. When we’re able to actually be in their presence again, I think that’s going to mean so much more. So I think the subject of how religion can work in, and have an affect on, a family is really interesting, and was enticing to me.”

Speaking of religion, ‘The Dark and the Wicked’ also chronicles how faith affects people who are facing the uncertainty of what happens after death. The performer further explained why he feels that’s an important storytelling aspect to showcase in the movie.

“I grew up in a small Southern town, where the Baptist Church had quite a hold on the community. So I grew up seeing the choices that people would make, based on what the church and their pastor would think,” Abbott Jr. divulged. “So I was aware of the extenuating choices people make, based on the religion that they had decided to accept into their lives.

“So I think the interesting part of this story is that this is a family that had always denounced religion, but the mother all of a sudden finds religion, and that affects the dynamics in this broken family,” the actor admitted. “Also, dealing with the death of a loved one in the center of all of that is also interesting.

“When you strip away the horror and psychological thriller elements of the story, you’re left with a deep, dark family drama, and I think that’s what makes this script stands out,” Abbott Jr. also shared. “Bryan masterfully combined the family drama with elements of horror and psychological thriller, and I think that’s something we haven’t really seen before in films. I have to say that I’m pretty proud of him for that.

Besides the religious and psychological elements of the drama’s story, Abbott Jr. also embraced the opportunity he had to create the physicality for his character of Michael. “Bryan, Marin and I spent a lot of time breaking these characters down, including the story arc of where they’re coming from, where they’re going and the things they need and how they’re going to achieve them. Bryan spent so much time on the script that it was pretty clear to us what he wanted the characters to be, and the choices he wanted them to make,” he shared.

“With the physicality, it was up to Marin and I to stay true to the script that Bryan had written. I don’t think there was one instance where we went to him and asked him, ‘Why are we saying and doing this?,’ the performer continued. “I think Bryan’s attention to detail made our jobs easier. All we had to do was get in front of the camera, and believe in our relationships and circumstances.”

Also chiming in on the visuals that are featured in ‘The Dark and the Wicked,’ Biddle gushed that “We had a phenomenal special effects make-up team. Most of the effects in the film are practical, and they’re usually just make-up prosthetics. We’ve worked with the head of the department twice before, and she’s incredibly talented. The prosthetic company is also top-notch.

“Our approach was to have limited special effects; we wanted to scare the audience without a lot of visual trickery,” the producer continued. “The digital effects are limited; pretty much everything was real practical effects…and the actors understood that, and the fact that the make-up would take some time to put on.”

With ‘The Dark and the Wicked’ now playing in theaters, as well as On Demand and on Digital, Biddle expressed her appreciation for the type of distribution that RLJE Films secured for the drama. “Every filmmaker wants their movie to play on 5,000 screens. But as much as we wanted everyone to have that communal experience, we also want people to be safe. With the world that we live in right now, it’s smart for theaters to not be a place where people congregate.

“So the benefit for a lot of independent films that are being released now is that there’s less competition in the marketplace,” the producer pointed out. “So the hope is that movies like this one have less competition, and can reach a broader audience.

“We’re also playing the movie at some drive-in theaters in regions and states where it makes sense. It’s a lot of fun to go to a drive-in, and a lot of us have never done it, or haven’t done it in a long time, so it’s great that people can have that experience with this film,” Biddle also noted.

“Our distribution partner, RLJE, has been amazing. They’ve opened the movie wider than we expected, given the critical response. We’ve struck a cord with audiences past our wildest expectations…and the movie works well in both the theatrical and at-home environments,” the filmmaker added.

Abbott Jr. also agreed with the decision to release the movie in both theaters and digitally. “We obviously want people to stay safe. We also want them to social distance and wear their masks if they are going to theaters. I think one of the saving graces for this film is the On Demand and Digital release. So many people are home, and are able to access movies from their paces of residences, and we may not have had this opportunity to reach so many people before the pandemic,” he shared.

The performer added that the drama “is playing really well, and people are gravitating towards it. One thing that has really helped this movie is social media. The buzz around this film has been very exciting, and I’m looking forward to hearing some awards chatter. Marin’s performance alone is certainly worthy of consideration,” he concluded.

Michael Abbott Jr. and Adrienne Biddle
Job Title
Actor and producer of the horror film, 'The Dark and the Wicked'

By Karen Benardello

As a graduate of LIU Post with a B.F.A in Journalism, Print and Electronic, Karen Benardello serves as ShockYa's Senior Movies & Television Editor. Her duties include interviewing filmmakers and musicians, and scribing movie, television and music reviews and news articles. As a New York City-area based journalist, she's a member of the guilds, New York Film Critics Online and the Women Film Critics Circle.

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