They Wait In The Dark


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

They Wait In The Dark
"This kind of quality is incredibly difficult to achieve with such limited resources." | Photo: Courtesy of FrightFest

If you haven’t been there, it can be difficult to imagine what life is like without a home. There are 2.5 million homeless children in the US, most of them accompanied by parents who are desperately trying to make life as normal as possible for them under the circumstances. Director Patrick Rea thrusts us into that world at the start of this film as Amy (Sarah McGuire) gently explains to eight-year-old Patrick (Patrick McGee), that they have to move somewhere else now, helping him up off the concrete where they have been sleeping. He’s accommodating in the manner of children who have recognised that there’s a real problem behind adults’ failure to give them what they want, but protests that he’s hungry. Later, in a café, Amy has to talk him out of ordering everything on the menu, getting by on black coffee herself.

Fortunately, the two of them do have somewhere to go: the remote, long-abandoned house which Amy has inherited from her abusive mother. Less fortunately, they have been forced to set out there with no money and few resources, fleeing a violent relationship. Notably, Patrick never asks for his other mother, only seeking reassurance that she won’t find them. This Amy duly supplies, though she’s rather less confident herself. With help from an old friend of hers, they settle into the house and get some supplies, but they’re about to find themselves with another problem to deal with as the ghosts of Amy’s past return to haunt her.

Copy picture

They Wait In The Dark was made on a microbudget, but one would never guess it. It looks as good as many a major studio production, and the sound work is also excellent. This kind of quality is incredibly difficult to achieve with such limited resources, and speaks to the diligence and love with which the film has been put together. It also features some very good performances, with McGuire a strong anchor and young McGee a real find, handling emotionally complex scenes with few words as he deals with a challenging character arc.

Also notable is Laurie Catherine Winkel as Judith, who strides through this modest film like one of the great screen villains, yet has room for notes of vulnerability and doubt which complicate the narrative. Judith’s introductory scene gives her an almost heroic quality as she stands up to injustice with nothing but a flick knife and a fearsome stare. She quickly reminds us that we have only heard one side of the story from Amy, and asserts that all she wants is to get her son back, but there is never any doubt that she’s dangerous, and that she won’t let anyone or anything get in her way.

There are multiple layers of story here, some more effective than others. The presence in the house takes a different form from the one viewers may expect, with its secret not revealed until the end, and also enables the film to go further in its exploration of the mechanics of domestic abuse, as Amy makes excuses for her injuries and persuades Patrick to help keep her secret. It’s a complicated pattern of behaviour, as she also uses the natural sympathy which she attracts to cover up her own problematic behaviours. It’s this duality in the character which really makes the film interesting, as we can never quite be sure of her state of mind, and at times we’re left wondering if she might be a threat to Patrick.

Racial politics also complicates the story, but remains present at a thematic level rather than being discussed overtly, implying that it may be something which has influenced Amy and Judith’s actions without them being fully conscious of it. This factors into Patrick’s growing awareness of the complexity of his situation. Given how very young her is, it doesn’t quite make sense to frame this as a coming of age story, but at times he has to take on adult levels of responsibility and we see him moving towards finding his own path.

Whilst some aspects of the story feel a little rushed and there are places where the dialogue could do with more work, this is, overall, a solid piece of work, and one of the stronger contributions to this year’s Frightfest. It would be fascinating to see what Rea and his team could achieve with real money behind them.

Reviewed on: 09 Sep 2022
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They Wait In The Dark packshot
Amy and her adopted son Adrian are on the run from her abusive ex-girlfriend, Judith, and take refuge in her family's abandoned farmhouse. Soon, a supernatural force from Amy's dark past rises up and begins haunting Adrian.

Director: Patrick Rea

Writer: Patrick Rea

Starring: Sarah McGuire, Laurie Catherine Winkel, Meagan Flynn, Patrick McGee

Year: 2022

Runtime: 85 minutes

Country: US


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