Running Time: 87 minutes
Written & directed by: Adam MacDonald
Featuring: Laurie Holden, Nicole Muñoz,Chloe Rose and Eric Osborne
Author:“Just be careful in what you believe.”
As strange as it may sound Canada has a long tradition in the horror genre, so “Pyewacket” (2018) is just the latest in a long line within the genre. As has been the case for the past few years the horror genre has gone from strength to strength, in particular the low budget versions of the genre. So when a new movie is released it does mean that they had either have a great idea behind them, be interestingly narratively or contain some kind of authenticity. It is unfortunate that many genre movies are just similar riffs on many of the same movies that have come before, this is not difficult, in fact it is an easy trap to fall into, as there are many subgenres, such as action horror, comedy horror, body horror, disaster horror, holiday horror, horror drama, psychological horror, science fiction horror, slasher horror, supernatural horror, gothic horror, natural horror, zombie horror, first-person horror and teen horror. However, the kinds of original movies that we have seen are the excellent (in some cases Oscar winning) “Get Out” (2017), “Spit” (2017), “The Ritual” (2016), The Devil’s Candy” (2015), “Baskin” (2015) as well as a host of others. The good news is that “Pyewacket” has taken the personal situations of a mother and daughter, amplifying the emotions and then giving a supernatural twist to bring the horror out – it is not a bad movie at all, in fact there are many reasons why this is a very good and compelling viewing experience.
This new movie written and directed by Adam MacDonald who has primarily been known as an actor, here delivers a movie that while it is very unsubtle as well as extremely blunt does have atmospheric moments as well as feelings that many people will recognise either in themselves or others. Primarily it is a movie about loss, that takes the form of such things as a lost parent, partner, friends and possibly most importantly the loss of control over oneself, life and situation. There were parts of “Pyewacket” that I found not only compelling but original in the way they were being shown as well as acted – so I applaud MacDonald for that as the budget on this movie must have been considerably tight which would have offered their own challenges.
“Pyewacket” is an unsettling occult nightmare, teenage Leah (Nicole Muñoz) finds solace from the recent death of her father—and from her strained relationship with her mother (Laurie Holden)—by dabbling in the dark arts. It all seems like harmless fun at first, until a blow-out argument leads Leah to do the unthinkable: put a death curse on her mother. No sooner has the girl performed the ritual than she regrets it. But it may be too late, as an evil presence known as Pyewacket begins to make itself known—and threatens to destroy both mother and daughter.
The main theme for me as I have said is loss, of which “Pyewacket” is full of, the main characters Leah, has lost her father, slowly losing her mother for most of the first third of the movie. Leah’s mother has lost her husband, seemingly losing her mind, in so doing is losing her daughter. In fact the only anchor that Leah has are her books, her goth friends as well as the occult which all welcome her with open arms, and are not judgemental at all, coupled with that is the possibility of young love. Then on the verge of things happening for her she sees that being taken away by her mother who moves them away – although it feels like the end of her world to Leah, it is only an hour’s drive to her old friends. What I love about this is that the onus is put on Leah’s shoulders, she will either make no decision or fly off the handle to make one she will regret. Without hesitation, feeling the only way a teenager can feel she makes a decision that will haunt her for the rest of her life. The reality is that as an adolescent you feel everything at a heightened degree, more so than any other time of your life, everything is new, not only that but hormones (both for boys and girls) are racing around with every feeling heighted to the nth degree. This is illustrated so well for at least the first half of the movie that other faults can be overlooked.
As I have said MacDonald is a novice director so he has cast the two leads as you would expect an actor to cast them, with two actresses that are not only experienced, but have very real and deep genre experience, they know who and what they are playing as well as hopefully the restrictions that exist on the budget. So as the mother we have Laurie Holden, who many people will recognise as a Frank Darabont favourite as well as a great actress who plays this part very well, maybe too well as she does overdo it slightly, but then she is playing dual roles for a time. Her daughter is perfectly cast with very experienced actress Nicole Muñoz as Leah who has to go from playing one extreme emotion to another, she seems to know exactly what to do and how to do it. These are both very physical roles for both actresses who for the most part have to play off each other for a majority of the movie. They both also have to act like they are at the end of their relative tether so that all of the emotions and decisions are as believable as possible.
The choice of direction is as you might expect, there are lots of close ups as well as tilts and hand held shots that sometimes seem a little random, but again the budget lends itself to that. In saying that this is not a found footage movie, and there are only four main locations, that being the house at the beginning, the school, the new house in the woods and the woods themselves. I would have liked to have seen some more steady shots as well as more set ones as well, these too can lend to the atmosphere of the movie, but that requires time as well as lighting – this all costs money so I don’t hold this against the director at all. One element of the movie that is great is the running time, now this may seem strange but this is a movie that is a straight line which for genre movies is a great thing to see as there is absolutely no time to second guess or to look beyond motivations which can be a bit of a leap in some situations.
Lastly, the entity known as Pyewacket is interesting, as it is based on some element of truth, as it was one of the familiar spirits of a witch detected by the “witch finder general” Matthew Hopkins in March 1644 in the town of Manningtree, Essex, England. It is always a positive when the filmmakers have carried out some for form of due diligence in which they have here so it seems ‘real’.
I would recommend this movie if you like the genre as well as low budgets that have some interesting elements as well as some good scares, it is a competent movie from someone who should be looked out for in the future as it definitely shows some stylistic flourishes with originality thrown in.
“Pyewacket” is streaming now on IFC.