They Wait in the Dark (2022)

Rating: C-

Dir: Patrick Rea
Star: Sarah McGuire, Patrick McGee, Paige Maria, Laurie Catherine Winkel

This is an awkward combination of two subgenres which usually do not mix. There’s the “woman on the run from their abusive spouse” drama. And then there’s the “person inherits house which turns out to be haunted” horror movie. While credit is due for this not being something I’ve seen before, it’s likely for good reason. There is the serious topic of domestic abuse, possibly on a generational level, combined with spooky shenanigans. It’s a tough combo to pull off, and the best I can say is, the two halves kinda work okay on their own. They just don’t mesh until the end, and do so in a way which poses more questions than it answers.

We have Amy (McGuire), who is fleeing with adopted son Adrian (McGee). The aim is to return to her home town, and her family residence, where her father recently died. They’re getting away from Amy’s partner, Judith (Winkel), who is coming after them, with a vengeance and a flick-knife. Meanwhile, Amy re-unites with childhood friend Jenny (Maria), who helps them settle in, to a building which has largely been trashed by the local kids (although, inexplicably, her father’s shotgun is left untouched?). Their activities include seance holding, which might or might not be connected to the strange occurrences experienced, particularly by Adrian. Meanwhile, it becomes more obvious that Judith is not the only one in their relationship to have a problem with anger issues.

This eventually heads towards a pair of twists. One is heavily foreshadowed, yet works reasonably well; the other comes out of nowhere, and had me muttering, “Hang on…” under my breath. I think committing fully to one or the other would have been better for the movie. Instead, it feels as if the script is hedging its bets, by providing an alternative; it comes off as the “Is Diet Pepsi alright?” of film-making. It doesn’t help that the performances feel all over the place in terms of their tone. The worst offender is likely Jenny. There’s one conversation where she is supposedly having a heartfelt talk with Amy, and rather than re-uniting old friends, it feels like an awkward speed-dating encounter.

Individual moments in this work well enough, and Rea does a decent job in creating the feeling that something unpleasant is building towards an eruption. It certainly does erupt, with domestic and supernatural elements converging, and conveniently arriving more or less simultaneously. Again, this felt unnecessary like overkill. Either Judith or the spectral presence should been enough for Amy to handle: both are, in truth, about her confronting the ghosts of her past. However, by this point, we’ve found the truth out, and Amy is no longer the sympathetic figure she initially appeared. The person I feel sorriest for is undoubtedly Adrian, who is going to require years of therapy. The viewer, however, will likely shrug their shoulders and get on with life.

The film is available digitally today.