They Wait in the Dark

They Wait in the Dark (2022)

They Wait in the Dark had its International première at FrightFest 2022

Patrick Rea’s They Wait in the Dark opens with a primal scene, as little Amy (Brinklee Wynn) stands staring in horror at the foot of a bed as her mother (Meagan Flynn) lies dying in a pool of blood, her throat slashed. The feature, written by Sarah McGuire, Chris Bylsma and Laurie Catherine Winkel (who also all act in it), then cuts to the adult Amy (McGuire) in flight. 

Gaunt, emaciated and fast running out of cash, Amy has been sleeping rough or occasionally in cheap motels with her young adopted son Adrian (Patrick McGee). They are on the run from Amy’s sociopathically aggressive girlfriend Judith (Winkel) – and with nowhere left to go, mother and son are heading back to the farmhouse which was once Amy’s childhood home and is now, since the death of her estranged father (long jailed for murdering her mother), her inheritance. Judith’s last vicious outburst left Amy with a raw knife wound in her side, but Amy also bears the scars of much deeper, older traumas, and in this empty house – recently a squat used by teens for Satanic rites – Amy’s different histories of violence look set to be reconjured for irrational intersection.

Though occasionally visited by Amy’s old schoolfriend Jenny (Paige Maria), mother and son are largely left to their own devices in a house that they clean up together as best they can. Yet as flashbacks gradually reveal Amy’s toxic relationship with her domineering mother, and the damaging situation from which she has emerged, we also see her show signs of repeating these behaviours, whether her tendency to snap at her beloved Adrian, or the often perverse protectiveness that she exhibits towards him, including a shocking insistence that this little boy learn how to shoot a rifle. As Judith slowly circles in, and as a ghostly presence starts manifesting in the house and expressing itself (like a regendered version of the revenant from Sidney J. Furie’s The Entity, 1982) through escalating acts of violence against Amy, it becomes ever more difficult to be sure how much we should be rooting for our ever evasive heroine, or where exactly our sympathies should lie in all these recurring patterns of abuse.  

Playing upon ideas of demons and ghosts to reveal, layer by layer, a damaged woman’s awful, unconscionable past, both distant and more recent, They Wait in the Dark is ultimately a tale of revenge, and also of recovery, as an innocent is not only saved from an unspeakable predicament, but also manages – maybe – to break the infernal cycle. For here primal scenes overlap and repeat, creating ever more horrific scenarios for impressionable children to witness, where their – and our – complicity as viewers is called into question.

strap: Patrick Rea’s twisty ghost story tracks down elusively fugitive characters on the run from questionable pasts

© Anton Bitel