[Popcorn Frights] THEY WAIT IN THE DARK Review – A Sinister Past Refusing to be Forgotten
Breanna Lucci says They Wait in the Dark attempts to strangle you with its complexities, drama, and social commentary.
They Wait in the Dark, starring Sarah McGuire, Laurie Catherine Winkel, Paige Maria, and Patrick McGee is a slow-burning queer thriller that attempts to strangle you with its complexities, drama, and social commentary. Writer and Director Patrick Rea’s approach raises some interesting questions. However, they may not be the questions he intended his audience to ask.
Amy (McGuire) and her son, Adrian (McGee), are on the run from Amy’s abusive ex-girlfriend, Judith (Winkel). Amy and Judith adopted Adrian as a child, which fuels Judith’s vengeful desire to find them. With no place to go, Amy does her best to care for Adrian—she hordes granola bars in her purse and, when able, gets a motel room for the night. Eventually, Amy and Adrian walk a few towns seeking refuge in her family’s abandoned farmhouse, vacant since her father’s death. Here, they are confronted with a sinister past refusing to be forgotten.
Rea touches on numerous themes throughout the film—from homosexuality to domestic abuse and the Black experience. They Wait in the Dark feels like a grab bag of subjects that audiences will wish to praise, but Rea’s execution often comes off as one-sided and insensitive. The dynamic of domestic abuse in queer relationships undoubtedly needs attention, but the film fails to approach it thoughtfully.
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While the writing and plot suffer in their own ways, the performances also disappoint. McGuire begins with decisive and compelling moments but loses momentum as the film progresses. Many scenes lack chemistry and consistency, and the dialogue feels forced and unnatural.
It doesn’t help that the story lacks continuity. Amy and Adrian make it to the farmhouse with nothing more than a purse and small backpack, yet somehow have multiple changes of clothes. The house doesn’t have running water, but somehow Amy can cook hearty meals provided by her local friend Jenny (Maria). Finally, how does someone effortlessly fire a shotgun, at close range, without ear protection? It’s as if these characters live in a reality where everyday inconveniences only happen when it’s—convenient for the scene's needs.
Director of Photography Hanuman Brown-Eagle’s attempts to assist in building tension and unease with long, distant shots of characters walking or sitting occupying most of the film. At times this successfully draws us in and, at others, becomes uninteresting. Violent scenes, which would generally serve a movie well, feel muted because we rarely get the whole picture.
As the credits rolled, one couldn’t help but feel sorely disappointed—nearly everything about They Wait in the Dark is one step away from the mark. It insensitively tackles complicated topics, has unsatisfying performances, and has layers of confusing exposition. All of which proved disruptive to the viewing experience. While Rea’s concepts are intriguing, there’s much room for improvement.
They Wait in the Dark world premiered at the Popcorn Frights Film Festival on August 15, 2022.