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[Photography by Melissa Connors. Images Courtesy of IFC Midnight]
Directed and written by Adam MacDonald
An IFC Midnight release
A mother and daughter united – and torn apart – by loss.
A group of friends fascinated by the occult – until one of them takes an unimaginable step.
A shadowy presence summoned by words that can’t be unspoken and actions that can’t be undone.
After the death of her father, Leah Reyes (Nicole Muñoz) is dragged to a new home by her mother (Laurie Holden). Separated from her old life, Leah takes refuge in intense music and dark magic. As her resentment builds against her mother, Leah’s interest in otherworldly forces takes a dark – and deadly – turn.
In Pyewacket (IFC Midnight), writer-director Adam MacDonald blends Teens Messing with the Supernatural (The Craft 1996, Ouija 2014), Be Careful What You Wish For (Wish Upon 2017, The Monkeys’ Paw 1902), Trying to Escape/Undo a Curse (Drag Me to Hell 2009, Casting the Runes 1911), adds a heaping helping of Mother-Daughter Conflict (Terms of Endearment 1983), then mixes them together in a Cabin In the Woods (2011).
Out of these familiar elements, Pyewacket delivers a slow-burn story that twists from suspense to unimaginable tragedy. Aside from a few jump scares, it relies on fear of the unseen to creep out the viewer. Fear of what we might see in the shadows and the inability to trust that what we see is real plagues both the viewer and the characters.
After Leah makes a rash, fateful choice, there is not a lull, but rather a carefully calibrated sequence of scenes where nothing overtly bad happens, but which nevertheless made me nervous and worried for the characters. Pyewacket allows the spaces between the scares to hum with tension and dread. As the movie progressed I found myself waiting and worrying for Leah, her friends, and her mom.
For all the Heavy Metal/Witchcraft trappings around Leah and her friends, it is the verbal curse Leah utters towards her mother that feels like the most violent act in Pyewacket. Seeing her break the taboo of saying the unforgivable out loud to her only remaining parent feels more transgressive and unforgiveable than her black magic ceremonies in the woods.
I would’ve appreciated a bit more information about Pyewacket itself, if only to know why Leah chooses that word for her woodland ceremony. The various occult books she pages through beforehand offer a brief glimpse of witch-hunter Matthew Hopkins, but nothing I could see about Pyewacket (if you’d like to find out a bit more, check here). On the other hand, NOT having this information made me very uneasy; NOT knowing what might be coming had me looking in every shadow.
This uncertainty also works in two of the most effective scenes in the movie. Leah’s friend Janice encounters … something … staying overnight at Leah’s new home. Whatever happens to her sends her fleeing in panic and into a near catatonic state. When Leah confronts her mother at the movie’s end, neither we – nor Leah herself – can be sure of who (or what) she is facing.
Pyewacket features a strong supporting cast that helps create a believable setting for the fantastical story. Eric Osborne and Romeo Carere as her friends Aaron and Rob, along with James McGowan as paranormal writer Rowan Dove feature in the “real world” while Bianca Melchior brings Pyewacket to life (or unlife).
Like Thomasin in The Witch (2015), Leah learns that the woods are unlovely, dark, and deep; and that some choices have a very steep cost.
Pyewacket will be available in theaters and on demand March 23. Visit IFC Midnight for more information.