‘They Wait in the Dark’ Review: If It’s Not One Thing, It’s Your Mother

A terrified woman finds her childhood home contains more than bad memories in this loopy horror movie.

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By Jeannette Catsoulis

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Made with just a handful of actors and a thimbleful of cash, Patrick Rea’s “They Wait in the Dark” is a gruesome ghost story that plays with our expectations. Filmed in 2021, the movie gathers four mothers — one murdered, two murderous, plus the rageful spirit of a fourth — into a twisted tale of abuse and revenge.

The delightfully baroque script, also by Rea, isn’t the most lucid, but it is economical. When we meet Amy (Sarah McGuire) and her adopted eight-year-old son, Adrian (Patrick McGee), they are on the run. Hollow-eyed and haunted, Amy is carrying a burner phone and nursing an unhealed knife wound in her ribs. Having survived an abusive mother, Amy is now fleeing her partner, Judith (Laurie Catherine Winkel), who — as a catcalling trucker learns to his peril — might be even more unhinged.

From its succinct opening to its exclamation-point finale, “Dark” delivers a tight, demented look at toxic parenting. With admirable speed, the movie installs Amy and Adrian in a creaky farmhouse in rural Kansas, furnishes her with an empathetic friend (Paige Maria) and introduces an initially invisible supernatural presence. Yet it isn’t the home’s frightful history — or even Judith’s remorseless approach — that concerns us so much as Amy’s darkening moods and growing volatility.

More tingly than terrifying (and more than a smidge off-the-wall), “Dark” has a cheeky boldness. Rea, a prolific independent filmmaker, deploys the gore judiciously and his actors are above reproach. As we watch Amy slowly decompensate, trapped between her boarded-up windows and creepy basement, it’s unclear whether her most urgent threat will come from without or within.

They Wait in the Dark
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 25 minutes. Rent or buy on most major platforms.

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