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Teen angst feels almost redundant in horror films, but the condition provides a strong emotional center to the sophomore feature from Canadian director Adam MacDonald (Backcountry). The story of a teenager who summons a demonic figure to kill her mother, Pyewacket is a slow-burn chiller that is all the more impressive for its subtlety.
The central characters are Leah (Nicole Munoz), a Goth teen with a strong interest in the occult, and her mother (Laurie Holden, The Walking Dead), who have both been on emotional shaky ground since the recent death of Leah’s father. Mother and daughter are perpetually at odds, especially when Leah is informed that they’ll be moving nearly an hour away to a rural location. The mother also becomes increasingly impatient with her daughter’s bizarre preoccupations. Spotting a recently acquired tattoo on Leah’s hand, she sarcastically asks, “A pentagram? You want to be a Manson chick or something?”
Release date: Mar 23, 2018
Close, but not quite. Leah has more otherworldly interests and she takes advantage of her impressive collection of books about the supernatural to uncover information about a ritual involving the summoning of the titular character who can solve all her problems. The thick forest handily located near their new home provides the perfect locale for the experiment.
Leah soon discovers that she’s succeeded in her efforts, as strange things begin happening and a spectral figure makes eerie appearances. But she also experiences buyer’s remorse when her mother apologizes after a particularly nasty argument. She shares her concerns with her Goth friends, who aren’t exactly sympathetic.
“I can’t believe you wanted to kill your own mother!” one of them screams at her.
When Leah’s best friend Janice (Chloe Rose) spends the weekend at the new house, she apparently encounters something so frightening that she locks herself in a car and demands to be taken home immediately. With the help of a famed author on the occult, Leah tries to find out if she can undo her incantation. But it turns out that witches, once summoned, aren’t so easy to get rid of.
Thankfully eschewing cheap jump scares, writer-director MacDonald instead relies on increasingly creepy atmospherics to slowly ratchet up the tension. Sometimes the film’s style is too restrained for its own good, resulting in some tedious patches. But for the most part, Pyewacket succeeds in its aspirations, employing sinuous camerawork and unsettling sound design to excellent effect.
The film’s other strength is its astute characterizations, with the interactions between the troubled teen and her emotionally fragile mother resonating with visceral authenticity. Both actresses deliver superb performances, making their characters relatable even at their least sympathetic. By the time Pyewacket reaches its truly horrifying climax that has nothing to do with the supernatural, you’ll be emotionally engaged to a degree uncommon for this sort of genre exercise.
Production companies: JoBro Productions & Film Finance, Just Believe Productions, Cave Painting Pictures
Distributor: IFC Midnight
Cast: Nicole Munoz, Laurie Holden, Chloe Roe, Eric Osborne, Mikey Brisson, Romeo Carere
Director-screenwriter: Adam MacDonald
Producers: Jonathan Bronfman, Victoria Sanchez
Executive producers: Jeffrey Sackman, Joe Sisto
Director of photography: Christian Bielz
Production designer: Damian Zuch
Editor: Maureen Grant
Composer: Lee Malia
Costume designer: Kendra Terpenning
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