Greetings, Glancers! I’ve come to understand something, a duality of sorts, a conundrum even. Films involving Witches and Witchcraft are rarely my favourites and in the Horror genre I’ll reach for zombies, vampires, general splatter, slashers, and the paranormal before I ever go for witches. However! I find witch movies to be the ones which most frequently creep me out, genuinely get under my skin, and chill and haunt me like other sub genres do not.
What does this mean? Why do I feel this way? I honestly don’t know. It’s not because I find these films to be better made, acted, directed. It’s not because of some spiritual reason like ‘ooh, this could be real’, given that I’m atheist to the extent of simply not caring in any concept of a God or afterlife. Is it because Witches are untapped when viewed alongside the other monsters I’ve mentioned, and when a good movie comes along it seems more effective? Is it because, when I’m alone at night (and admittedly this goes back to childhood), and I’m heading up the stairs in the dark by myself if I happen to imagine a hand reaching out to grab me by the ankle and drag me into the void, or imagine something chasing me up the stairs with murderous intent, it’s not some masked killer or fanged beast or flesh-horny undead fiend I envisage, no; it’s always, always a wizened old crone, screeching with increasing pitch and volume. Am I… am I scared of women?
Pyewacket is mostly a story about women. It’s about grief too, and witchcraft, but mostly it’s about the relationship between a mother (Laurie Holden) and daughter (Nicole Munoz) in the aftermath of daddy dying. It likely would have been a step too trope trodden to have made Mummy a Step-Mummy instead, but that’s the vibe we get from the film. Things are not great between them – there is distance, distrust, and bubbling anger fuelled on either side by booze, hormones, absence, and resentment. Daughter Leah is enamoured with the dark arts, but it seems to be more than justice your typical adolescent rebellious phase nonsense. Her mother forces her to upend to her life and move to a cabin in the woods. It’s remote, she doesn’t know anyone, and her friends are left behind. After a particularly heated argument, Leah packs her bag, heads into the woods behind her new home, and performs a ritual to summon a demon/witch/familiar called Pyewacket, and requests that it kills her mother. Two minutes later, Leah and her mum make up and begin fixing their relationship – but the creature begins to stir. Oopsy. Seeing signs that this thing is coming for her mother, Leah tries to undo the ritual before it’s too late.
As you may have guessed, there are a few narrative issues with the film. Namely, the relationship between mother and daughter never feels too strained. If things were so bad that you would wish death, genuinely wish death on someone, I assume a hug and a cupcake would not miraculously improve matters. That’s no fault of Munoz or Holden – both are committed to their roles and are believable. I don’t think this was a case of making the ritual out to being some adolescent over reaction and exposing how seriously teens can take trivial matters; this is a family who is meant to be grieving, not coping, and that side of the story is not explored with enough clarity and purpose. It would be more believable if we spent more time on how daddy’s death affected everyone, how mum and daughter were irreconcilable but still loved each other, and then show Pyewacket’s power earlier in the movie motivating Leah to realise that the ritual was a step too far. The beats are there, they’re simply out of time and not loud enough.
The film is evenly paced, but horror fans are likely to say it’s a slow burn. It is, and the scares feel left entirely until the closing parts of the movie. It’s a low budget movie, but there could have been earlier and more frequent pay-offs for the atmosphere which is admirably built. Once the scares do come – I suspect they won’t be as effective to others as they were for me, after all, I’m apparently scared of women. But the notion of this thing stalking you, taking on different forms, relentless in its thirst, that’s the stuff I respond to. It’s just a pity there wasn’t much of it.
Finally, and I’m hoping to avoid as many spoilers as I can, but the film ends with what I think was supposed to be a shock ending or a twist of sorts? Doesn’t work. Not for me at least, because it seemed so obvious to me what was happening. As the final act of violence occurs, I had to shake my head and say ‘that’s not the direction they decided to go, seriously?’. There are so many alternative, more satisfying ways this story could have ended – and could have still ended with a twist, but they went for the one that is least believable. It’s set up well in advance and is telegraphed, but still I can’t believe that certain characters would have behaved the way they do.
Still, as a whole I enjoyed the movie. There’s a sense of lore, I enjoyed the atmosphere and the dedication to making things otherworldly. I think the director has a clear voice, the film looks great, the performances are solid, and the handful of scares are well executed and creepy. More witch movies, please!
Let us know in the comments what you thought of Pyewacket!