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“THEY WAIT IN THE DARK” is a surprising indie horror film about trying to outrun the demons of the past that moves in unexpected directions.

THEY WAIT IN THE DARK just landed on digital (2/7/23). Read on to find out if you should Rent it, Stream it, or Skip it.

Written and directed by award-winning filmmaker Patrick Rea (Nailbiter, I Am Lisa), They Wait in the Dark is an unusual genre-blending film that tackles horror from multiple angles.

On one hand, it’s a character-driven film addressing the very real-world horror of generational trauma and cycles of abuse — both child and domestic. On the other hand, it’s a supernatural horror film about a house haunted by the sins of the past and spirits with unresolved issues hellbent on terrorizing the living.

While creating a bit of an uneven viewing experience, that dichotomy is certainly exciting and keeps the film from ever feeling predictable or a simple retread of material you’ve seen a million times before.

At first, They Wait in the Dark presents as a drama about a down-on-her-luck woman named Amy (Sarah McGuire) and her gentle, good-natured son, Adrian (Patrick McGee).

After a shocking opening, when a young Amy witnesses her mother’s brutal murder, we meet adult Amy and her son Adrian squatting in a gas station until a security guard catches them and forces them to leave.

It seems apparent that the two are homeless, and it’s heartbreaking to imagine the stress of a mother trying to protect and provide for her son against innumerable obstacles. You also immediately wonder what kind of toll Amy’s childhood trauma has taken on her emotionally and mentally — and what difficult roads it’s forced her down as she’s gotten older.

We quickly begin to understand the depth of Amy’s distress.

When she reconnects with an old childhood friend, Jenny (Paige Maria), in her hometown, we discover she’s returned to her family’s abandoned farmhouse following the death of her estranged father, who it appears may have murdered his wife.

It’s also revealed that Adrian is Amy’s adopted son, and she’s on the run from her abusive ex, Judith (Laurie Catherine Winkel), Adrian’s other mom.

When we meet Judith, who is on the road trying to hunt Amy and Adrian down, she’s portrayed as a force to be reckoned with — a bit of a clichéd, tough-as-nails badass who doesn’t take anything from anyone and has no problem brandishing a blade and using violence as needed.

It’s unusual and refreshing to see a female in the role of an intimidating and abusive partner. It immediately subverts expectations and makes a familiar story feel fresh.

Through flashback vignettes, we learn that Amy’s mother (Meagan Flynn) was extremely abusive to her before her death. And suddenly, this starts to feel like a tragic but familiar tale of abuse begetting more abuse, a cycle that so often feels unavoidable.

To make a bad situation considerably more intense, the home they are staying in looks cozy and inviting but seems to be harboring a dark and menacing force. At first, whatever’s haunting the home seems laser-focused on Adrian, who seems to see things Amy cannot.

Soon, Amy begins to sense something foreboding, and she struggles with the fear of what’s outside — her dangerous ex — and the unseen horror of what may be inside.

Nowhere feels safe.

Amy’s haunting memories are amplified in her childhood home, and it’s clear she’s keeping dark secrets from her son.

Initially portrayed as a sympathetic victim, the stress of the situation begins to fray Amy’s nerves and brings out her alarming temper and aggressive behavior towards her son. We begin to fear that Amy is repeating a devastating cycle of abuse, both by unconsciously choosing a partner with the same abusive tendencies as her mother and by herself exhibiting a similarly damaging parenting style.

Our anguish over the situation is intensified by just how kind and loving McGee portrays young Adrian. He’s someone we feel desperate to protect, and we hate seeing him suffer in a situation he has no control over or responsibility for.

Eventually, the film reaches its dynamic and powerful finale while delivering a whopping one-two punch of unexpected twists.

One of the twists isn’t too difficult to anticipate if you’re paying attention, though it’s competently handled and still plenty satisfying. The other big one comes out of nowhere and delivers a tremendous jaw-dropping effect.

The result is a much different film than you spend most of the runtime thinking you’re watching.

I wager most viewers will appreciate the twists and turns and how the natural and supernatural come together in a perfectly orchestrated and explosive climax.

Though there’s a lot to praise in this film — including some great tension, stellar sound design, and believably compelling performances from McGuire and McGee —it’s far from flawlessly executed.

You’ll have to overlook some plot holes, scenes that don’t quite work, and lines of dialogue that feel unnatural. It also drags a bit and may lose some viewers before the film’s compelling and surprising final act. I would urge you to stick with it, even if you start to lose interest. The payoff is worth your patience.

At its core, the film explores how difficult it is to escape our past demons and the horrible, heartbreaking way we so often embrace the monsters we fear most.

Ultimately, Rea manages to do quite a lot with very few resources, and I greatly appreciate how much he swings for the fences with this film.

RENT IT. This is indie horror done right, and it’s the kind of film that takes risks, passionately attempts to give audiences something unexpected, and deserves your support. It’s also a fine example of much-needed representation and diversity in horror. It’s not perfect, but it’s well worth the few bucks to check this one out.

Overall Rating (Out of 5 Butterflies): 3.5

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