Review: ‘They Wait in the Dark,’ starring Sarah McGuire, Patrick McGee, Laurie Catherine Winkel, Paige Maria, Chris Bylsma and Meagan Flynn

May 7, 2023

by Carla Hay

Patrick McGee and Sarah McGuire in “They Wait in the Dark” (Photo by Hanuman Brown-Eagle/1091 Pictures)

“They Wait in the Dark”

Directed by Patrick Rea

Culture Representation: Taking place in unnamed U.S. cities, the horror film “They Wait in the Dark” features a cast of predominantly white characters (with some African Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A woman goes into hiding with her young son while her estranged female lover tries to find her, and a ghost seems to be attacking this runaway mother. 

Culture Audience: “They Wait in the Dark” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching flawed but suspenseful low-budget horror movies that have some unexpected twists and turns.

Paige Maria and Laurie Catherine Winkel in “They Wait in the Dark” (Photo by Hanuman Brown-Eagle/1091 Pictures)

The horror movie “They Wait in the Dark” is nearly derailed by the amateurish performances from almost all of the cast members. However, the screenplay and direction hold up quite well, when it comes to suspense and a few surprises. This is a movie that seems to be about one thing in the beginning but it turns into something completely different by the end.

Written and directed by Patrick Rea, “They Wait in the Dark” (which takes place in unnamed U.S. cities) is mostly about a harrowing runaway trip taken by a woman in her 30s named Amy (played by Sarah McGuire) and her son Adrian (played by Patrick McGee), who’s about 7 or 8 years old. (“They Wait in the Dark” was filmed in Topeka, Kansas, and Kansas City, Missouri.) It’s soon revealed that Amy has taken Adrian from their home because Amy wants to go into hiding with Adrian. Amy has decided to go back to her hometown and hide at the abandoned house where deceased widower father used to live.

The movie’s opening scene shows Amy waking up from a nightmare. Amy and Adrian (whom Amy has given the affectionate nickname Bubba) have fallen asleep on the floor of a gas station convenience store. They check into the DeSoto Inn Motel, which is the kind of place where it doesn’t matter that Amy says she doesn’t have a credit card because she can pay by cash. The motel also doesn’t ask for identification from anyone who stays there.

Within walking distance from the motel is an eatery called Nelle Belle’s Diner. Amy and Adrian go there to get something to eat and drink. A waitress named Jenny (played by Paige Maria) immediately recognizes Amy, because Amy and Jenny used to be friendly acquaintances and have known each other since they were teenagers. Amy hasn’t been back to this area in a few years.

When Jenny asks where Adrian’s father is, Amy says Adrian is adopted “because I can’t have kids on my own.” What Amy doesn’t tell Jenny (but Jenny and viewers of this movie find out later) is that Jenny is lesbian and in a live-in relationship with a violent woman named Judith (played by Laurie Catherine Winkel), who will eventually be seen looking for Amy and Adrian.

Amy doesn’t have a car, so she asks Jenny for a ride to the house where her father used to live. It’s also Amy’s childhood home. When Amy and Adrian settle into the house, Adrian asks her if Judith is looking for them. Amy tells Adrian that Amy never told Judith about this house, so it’s unlikely that Judith will find them there.

Why are Amy and Adrian going into hiding? Later in the movie, she happens to see Eric Zalinda, a guy she knew in high school. Eric had a big crush on Amy back then. And apparently, he still has feelings for her.

However, Eric finds out that Amy has been living openly as a lesbian since the last time he saw her. Amy shows him a knife scar that she says Judith gave to her during a fight that the couple had. Amy also confides in Eric that she and Adrian have gone into hiding from Judith.

But strange things start happening at Amy’s former childhood home. An unseen force keeps physically attacking her. And there’s pentagram drawn in chalk on the basement floor. Adrian randomly goes to the basement and lights some candles. But when he does, the basement door slams shut, and he can’t get out until Amy rescues him.

During this tension-filled stay in the house, Amy has flashbacks to her unhappy childhood. There’s a flashback scene where Amy is about 7 or 8 years old (played by Brinklee Wynn), and she is hit in the face by her mother (played by Meagan Flynn), who was apparently abusive to Amy on a regular basis. Another flashback also reveals that Amy’s father (played by John Thomson) went on trial for a crime that might or might not be detailed in the movie. Does Amy’s troubled family history have anything to do with why she seems to be attacked by a ghost?

Meanwhile, Judith is shown on the hunt for Amy and Adrian. Viewers will see how angry and menacing Judith can be in a scene where she’s at a gas station and two truckers (played by Chris Bylsma and Kurt Hanover) mistake Judith for a sex worker because they see her loitering around and going up to people. What Judith has actually been doing is showing people a photo of Amy and Adrian and asking if they’ve seen these two missing family members. Judith tells the truckers that she’s not a sex worker. However, one of the truckers is especially aggressive about propositioning Judith for sex, who shows how wrathful she can be.

“They Wait in the Dark” is bare-bones basic when it comes to visual effects. Some of the acting performances from the cast members are too over-the-top when the acting needed more subtle realism. At other times, the acting is too stiff when it needed to look more natural. Even with these flaws, it’s worth watching “They Wait in the Dark” until the very end, because the last 20 minutes have surprising revelations that make this horror movie fairly memorable and much more disturbing that it originally seems.

1091 Pictures released “They Wait in the Dark” on digital on February 7, 2023.

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