Title: The Wraith Within (2023) Director: Aaron Strey Writer: Carlos Samudio Studio: Looknow Productions IMDb Plot: When a group of friends head to their hometown for a weekend getaway, a dangerous secret emerges that may kill them all. Joe Says: A lost opportunity in horror.
Indie movie making within any genre is usually a celebration of love for the medium and often provides an excellent chance to view the raw beginnings of talent. Some indie films might not be polished affairs but trivialities can be overlooked if the dialogue sings or the photography is indelible or if the acting rises to carry the production forward. Other times the needle pins in the opposite direction and the affair is an amateurish misfire.
The Wraith Within comes across as a college project that was made with friends and beer. The heart might be there but the unprofessional blemishes have a look that… was made with friends and beer. And a domestic light at that. The acting is middle school repertoire-fresh. The costumes are off-season finds from Spirit Halloween. And Michael Madsen, the big draw star, moves like he’s on day 5 of a three-day bender.
Even the premise meanders. Written by Carlos Samudio, The Wraith Within’s antagonist is a vengeful spirit murdered in the 1950s. She is released in the present day and goes on to murder a group of friends who have returned home for a class reunion. But wait. Could one of these friends have a familial connection to this ghost? Does Freddy Krueger’s manicurist have nightmares? Yes, the plot is as transparent as a six of Shiner Bock.
Set in a dusty Texas town, and admittedly the filming location becomes the strongest character of the picture, five obnoxious friends return for a class reunion. Ignoring the warnings by the sheriff (Madsen), they go on to berate former classmate Annie (Shea Herring) for remaining stuck at home. While Jennifer (Allison Hawkstone) and Aaron (Shane Christopher) try to plan for their future, a mysterious box is hoisted upon them by Annie that unleashes, well, this is when the title comes to play.
Outside of some clever drone footage of the town, Director Aaron Strey seems more intent on highlighting the stories of these flat characters returning to their home than he does with building in actual terror to what is supposed to be a horror movie. There is no build up. And no real suspense. The Wraith (Ally Kathryn) appears, kills (mostly offscreen), and vanishes. Then it repeats until the obvious becomes humdrum.
Strey and Samudio have a potentially fun concept but the end result is a lost opportunity in horror. They attempt to go meta ala Scream but abandon those notions as the town instead becomes (underwhelmingly) terrorized like Antonio Bay of The Fog. The origin of the Wraith is never grounded, bouncing between curses from the land, the old family, and probably stubbing of toes in the night.
There are ways to work around and with a low budget. The Wraith Within shows no such work and tries to rely on a stab-and-chase motif that is as tired as Madsen’s eyes.