Released Mar. 23, 2018
Unrated (equivalent to R rating for violence, horror imagery, and language – 1hr 28min
Directed by Adam MacDonald
Starring Nicole Muñoz, Laurie Holden, Chloe Rose
An angsty teenage girl, Leah (Muñoz), is extremely upset with her mother (Holden) after she abruptly uproots their lives and moves them out to the boonies. After having her difficulties with the change trivialized and her life choices criticized, she is compelled to perform an occult ritual to curse her mother as retribution (damn, she ain’t one to piss off). As increasingly odd things begin to occur in their new home, she is filled with regret and must find a way to undo what she did, because demons don’t make takebacks easy.
The slowburn horror/family drama hybrid seems to be a rather popular format right now, and this is one of those. Many of the scares on hand here are suggested, auditory, or psychological in nature.
My biggest concern with Pyewacket was how it was going to manage centering its entire premise on such an unsympathetic act without making either the daughter or the mother look like monsters or fools. The film’s biggest accomplishment is that it mostly pulls the pivotal curse off in a way that resembles something reasonable. They’re both struggling with grief, but mom has made a bad habit of taking her frustrations out on her daughter, despite the fact that her lost husband is also Leah’s lost father. Leah has turned to heavy metal and an interest in the occult to help her cope, and when mom really digs in deep while her daughter is feeling especially low, Leah has had enough and breaks out the ‘murder mom with demons’ kit that, interestingly enough, she had already pre-assembled. They’re both pretty miserable to be around – but mom considerably more so – and while it’s still a bit of a stretch, Pyewacket succeeds to stick the landing on its biggest plot device, preventing the film from being utterly ridiculous.
With its most fundamental element accounted for, how does the rest of the movie fare? It’s something of a mixed bag. Muñoz and Holden both put forth authentic performances as the dysfunctional family unit broken by tragedy. Muñoz, in particular, has a lot of scenes to carry on her own and she does well with them, making her a name to watch in the future. It’s a small supporting cast here, and only Chloe Rose (who starred in the extremely underrated Hellions) as Leah’s bestie Janice has any heavy lifting to do. The direction is pretty decent – Adam MacDonald turns in a fairly workmanlike effort, but as he demonstrated with his previous film Backcountry (a relentless grizzly stalks a young couple on a camping trip), he knows how to make a forest feel ominous and uninviting, and that plays into the atmosphere of Pyewacket.
However, as mentioned earlier, this film is a slowburn effort, and it remains committed to that concept. That’s not a complaint in itself, but there comes a point where something more direct would be greatly appreciated – where the premise demands some kind of solid confrontation with the dark forces swirling around the background – and Pyewacket still plays it low and slow. By steadfastly avoiding cheap thrills, the movie starts avoiding thrills altogether – spooky sounds might be effective early on, but not so much when the film is heading into the home stretch. Once we get our climactic reveal of the demon, things fizzle out quickly – with the exception of a brief but super-creepy moment, the whole thing lands with a dull thud. It doesn’t help that Leah falls to pieces faster than a drunk with a jigsaw puzzle and that the conclusion, apparently intending to shock, is telegraphed pretty thoroughly in advance, turning the third act into a march toward the inevitable instead of a suspenseful ride.
Ultimately, Pyewacket handles its dramatic elements more effectively than its horror ones. While the movie mostly works as a multi-moral fable about being careful what you wish for, understanding that some words can’t be taken back once spoken, and not taking loved ones for granted, it also proves that restraint in horror filmmaking can be overused. There’s no shame in the obvious and straightforward option when that’s what would prove to be more fulfilling. So, largely thanks to an underwhelming ending, this movie’s quality components just don’t add up to a more substantial sum.
Pyewacket gets a