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Film Review: Impressive Third Act Lifts “They Wait in the Dark”

Written by: Matt Patti | February 6th, 2023

Film poster: “They Wait in the Dark”

They Wait in the Dark (Patrick Rea, 2022) 2½ out of 4 stars.

I’ve always been a fan of films with dual conflicts. I’d argue that every film has multiple conflicts contained within but I’m specifically referring to films that feature two (or more) large extrinsic antagonists that are both coming for our protagonist. My interest in films like this led me to check out writer/director Patrick Rea’s new horror-thriller They Wait in the Dark. The film centers around Amy (Sarah McGuire, Below the Fold) and her son Adrian (Patrick McGee) who are on the run from Amy’s psychotic ex (and Adrian’s other mom), Judith (Laurie Catherine Winkel, Order 86). They take shelter in Amy’s childhood Kansas home, but a spirit from Amy’s past also resides there and torments the two during their stay. With two separate forces causing Amy and Adrian to feel unsafe, will the two be able to successfully ward off both?       

Rea (I Am Lisa) takes his time introducing the characters in the film, which is to the story’s benefit. We first see Amy and Adrian hiding out in the corner of a gas station, desperate and afraid, before running off to a sleazy motel after getting looks of disapproval. We are then introduced to Judith at that same gas station a bit later, walking with confidence and purpose. She confronts a man who catcalls her and, well, let’s just say I’m unsure if that man will ever catcall any woman again. The very different first appearances of the characters reveal their personalities and outward-most traits, but they also hide key aspects of each person that will be revealed later.

Sarah McGuire in THEY WAIT IN THE DARK. Photo by Hanuman Brown-Eagle ©Smart Mouth Productions LLC

After these introductions, the film comes to a screeching halt, unfortunately. Amy and Adrian return to Amy’s hometown and take shelter in her childhood home, while Judith goes to several locations looking for them. It is at this point that the movie’s flaws come to the forefront. When Amy and Adrian are alone together on screen for an extended period of time, it’s impossible not to notice how subpar McGee’s performance is as Adrian. The film’s writing doesn’t help him out at all either, as the dialogue is cheesy and clichéd, making Adrian seem very one-dimensional and McGee’s performance even more unimpressive. It is during this second act that the soundtrack intrudes far too much, as well. The score for They Wait in the Dark is a solid one, but in this middle portion of the film it is greatly overused to roughly transition one scene to another. At its worst, the soundtrack doesn’t even fit the mood of the scene it’s playing in.

Going into the third act, viewers may start to lose interest after the mediocre-at-best second act. Hold on a little longer, though, as They Wait in the Dark has a finale worth waiting for. Without giving too much away, both external forces take their toll on Amy and Adrian and the film builds to an intense climax. A fascinating third-act twist and some unexpected emotional payoffs add to the mix to make the conclusion of the film land surprisingly well. Through this invigorating and enticing ending, They Wait in the Dark redeems itself and is even able to make the previous two acts better, as a result. In the end, the film’s most compelling content is, indeed, lurking in the dark, waiting to jump out at just the right time. That moment could have happened a bit earlier, for sure, but still, so long as the viewer is patient enough to stick around, they will most likely leave fulfilled.

Laurie Catherine Winkel in THEY WAIT IN THE DARK. Photo by Hanuman Brown-Eagle ©Smart Mouth Productions LLC

Matt Patti has enjoyed voicing his opinions on films from a young age. He has lived in the Baltimore, Maryland, area since 2015 and is a graduate of Stevenson University’s Film & Moving Image program. Matt is currently back at Stevenson University, working as the School of Design, Arts, and Communication's Studio Manager.

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