Arrow Video FrightFest 2022: They Wait in the Dark Squanders Its Awesome Potential

The best horror movies are often the ones that use their fantastical genre elements to comment on real-world issues, and that’s why I was initially intrigued by They Wait in the Dark. The FrightFest plot synopsis promised a mix of supernatural scares and an all-too-real story about an abusive relationship, so I jumped at the chance to review it. I couldn’t wait to see how the film would handle that powerful combination, but after getting the chance to see it, I’m sad to say I was pretty disappointed.

They Wait in the Dark was directed by Patrick Rea, and it stars Sarah McGuire, Laurie Catherine Winkel, Patrick McGee, and Paige Maria. It’s about a woman named Amy and her son Adrian who are on the run from Amy’s abusive ex-girlfriend Judith. They eventually end up in the house where Amy grew up, and soon after they arrive, they begin to experience some frightening supernatural phenomena. On top of that, they also know that Judith is out there looking for them, and by the end of the film, these natural and supernatural threats collide in a big way.

Right from the get-go, I had pretty mixed feelings about They Wait in the Dark. For example, I found the acting and the dialogue to be rather hit or miss, so I had a tough time getting on board with the characters. Sometimes they were pretty good, but other times they would say or do things that just didn’t feel entirely natural, and that would always take me out of the story a bit.

On top of that, I also found the scares in They Wait in the Dark to be pretty lackluster. At first, Amy and Adrian experience some typical paranormal phenomena, and it’s decent enough. It’s nothing out of this world, but I was willing to give the horror a chance to ramp up. However, when it eventually did, it totally lost me.

A woman smoking

The entity haunting them eventually begins to physically abuse Amy, and while it’s interesting at first, it gets boring after a while. Sure, the spirit doesn’t do the exact same thing every time, but it’s close enough. Sometimes the thing beats her up, other times it chokes her, and there’s even one time when it tries to burn her.

The pattern just becomes predictable, so it has a very “here we go again” kind of feel to it. As they say, variety is the spice of life, and hauntings are no different. They need to change things up every once in a while too, and since the entity in They Wait in the Dark doesn’t do that, its scares lose their effectiveness pretty quickly.

What’s more, the film also shows us the spirit a few times, and it doesn’t look great. Granted, it’s not terrible, but it’s not convincing at all. It’s just a few steps above what you’d expect from a low-budget 1980s monster movie, so it disconnected me from the story even further.

Last but not least, I also had an issue with the message of They Wait in the Dark (at least for most of its runtime; the last 20 minutes are a different story). Like I said before, the movie is about an abusive relationship, and the scares mirror that abuse pretty clearly. If the film had stopped there, it would’ve had a nice symmetry between the human drama and the horror, and the message would’ve totally worked.

A woman looking serious

However, the movie adds more layers to that pattern, and it eventually became too much for me. We also see flashbacks to when Amy’s mother used to abuse her, and there are even a few times when Amy snaps at Adrian and seems to come within a hair’s breadth of abusing him too. With all those layers of abuse, it seemed like the movie was beating a dead horse. I got the message when it was just Judith and the spirit, so doubling down on it, again and again, felt entirely unnecessary.

All that being said, I do have to acknowledge that They Wait in the Dark is by no means a terrible movie. It has its strengths as well, and for me, there are two that really stood out. To begin, at about the hour mark, it adds an unexpected twist to its story, and I for one did not see it coming. It caught me completely off guard and added a lot more substance to the narrative, and I really appreciated that.

Secondly, even though the multiple layers of abuse feel excessive for most of the movie’s runtime, they actually come together really nicely in the end. I’m not going to spoil it, but I will say that the final few scenes manage to bring all those layers together in a way that makes perfect sense and conveys a really touching message. It doesn’t entirely make up for how I felt about those layers earlier in the film, but it definitely helps.

But at the end of the day, those two strengths were ultimately too little too late. Yes, They Wait in the Dark ended on a pretty good note, but on the whole, I still wasn’t a huge fan of this film. The poor characters and mediocre scares outweigh the things it gets right, so I’m sad to say I wouldn’t recommend it.

They Wait in the Dark plays at Arrow Video FrightFest on August 27.

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Written by JP Nunez

JP Nunez is a lifelong horror fan. From a very early age, he learned to love monsters, ghosts, and all things spooky, and it's still his favorite genre today.

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