Considering all of the posthumous releases that are primed to grant audiences one last glimpse of an actor or actress who left this life too soon, Brittany Murphy’s name comes as a startling inclusion given it’s the year 2015. After passing away on December 20, 2009, her last role will come some six years later as a child psychologist in Darin Scott’s psychological thriller Something Wicked. Why do I mention this fact? Only because of the disturbing pull quote on the front of the DVD sleeve for Something Wicked – “Brittany Murphy’s Final Movie.” Am I the only one who takes issue with such a blatant exploitation of the actress’ unfortunate passing?
But this isn’t an editorial on the morality of marketing material. My only job here is to review a film that comes across as a tonally ambiguous psycho-thriller that blends the blinding qualities of love with the unpredictable state of mental illness. Joe Colleran’s screenplay plays like an episode of Dawson’s Creek that’s mixed with a familial ghost story, but it bounces back and forth between moments of seriousness that are counteracted by an obvious strive for a few horrific chuckles. It never works, which is one of the biggest problems that Scott faces, but on a deeper level, there’s a modicum of tension that Something Wicked finds, and then subsequently fumbles through unsteady fingers that aren’t able to deliver a string of “shocking” revelations.
The films opens with a tragic car accident that leaves a young woman named Christine (Shantel VanSanten) without a mother and father. Christine’s boyfriend was behind the wheel at the time, and he survives as well, which leads to the two becoming engaged about a year down the line. But her brother Bill (James Patrick Stuart) isn’t sold on James (John Robinson), and Bill’s wife Susan (Brittany Murphy) suspects that Christine might be suffering more than she lets on – your typical schizoid behavior. Everyone refuses to believe Susan, but when dead bodies start piling up, no one has any answers – only accusations.
Something Wicked is a “hidden in plain sight” thriller that’s not very convincing, destined to a fate that so desperately wants to blow our respective minds. Clever viewers won’t need more than a few minutes to unravel Joseph Mungra’s haunting story, yet we’re strung along by hooded red herrings and covered tracks in an almost futile effort to muster suspenseful tension. By turning every male character into a voyeuristic creeper who finds their own way to spy on a near-nude Shantel VanSanten (including a randomly incestuous arc), questions of deviancy still can’t outweigh the obvious antagonistic reveal that’s coming from miles away. The execution is better than some similar titles I’ve been forced to stomach, but subtlety is still a lost art as far as Scott is concerned.
Choosing love as a character’s main motivation for anything often sets a movie behind the 8-ball, because so many of these scenarios have the ability to become nothing but goofy, overblown romantics without any realism. Saying you’d go to the moon for someone is a sweet gesture, but actually getting in a spaceship and flying to the moon so you can win over a blonde-haired love interest is a totally different game. Something Wicked dances that same fine line, but instead of intergalactic travel, death is introduced as a means to an undying bond – because a way to a woman’s heart is murder. Don’t think that’s a spoiler of any kind, because the Grim Reaper’s touch can be found throughout the entirety of Christine’s hazy experiences, but again, the premise becomes cartoonish in the hands of rigid actors.
Can we really blame any of the actors here for phoning in stereotypes and overacting, though? Something Wicked attempts to channel the tragedy of Greek stage plays, and actors do their best to ham up their emotional experiences in the same fashion. Between John Robinson’s overly-empathetic, pouty-dog face, and James Patrick Stuart’s unnecessarily creepy brother character, performances range from “admirable attempts” to “close but no cigar,” all besides VanSanten. The young actress displays an ability to address her character’s emotional state and somehow keep our predictions in check, which is a relief when compared to other inexplicably aggressive characters. Murphy herself also finds success in a character that’s nothing but a pawn, which contributes to the female cast members winning out over their male counterparts.
Something Wicked is something alright – something we’ve seen over and over again. Something that tries to hide in plain sight. Something that feels like an overly-dramatic soap opera with a few deaths thrown in for shits and giggles. It’s a shame, because VanSanten does turn in a nice leading performance, but the goons she’s surrounded by just can’t keep the same engaging intensity. In the end, all we’re left with is another twisted story of love gone wrong, with wild, untamed emotions being completely to blame. Sound familiar?
Something Wicked is just another romantic thriller that's derailed by obvious plot turns and a crazy notion that murder and love go hand in hand.