Movie Review: PYEWACKET – It’s too bad the title will put a lot of people off, because this indie horror is a terrific watch.

Yeah, so that title.  I can’t stand it, and I think it will put people off from giving the movie a fair shot.  Look, even I find it off-putting, and I know what it means! But the vast majority of people who see the title won’t.  It’ll just be a funny title that sounds like it could be some kind of slapstick comedy involving people getting hit in the face with custard pies and getting whacked on the behind with a paddle.  But of course, I’m British and grew up with these kind of vaudevillian shenanigans on the Beeb, so there you go.

Facetiousness aside, the title is actually the name of a witch’s familiar from the old days of the Salem Witch Trials, and in the movie it’s used to call forth into being a supernatural entity to do the bidding of a moody teenager, Leah (played incredibly well by Nicole Munoz).  If I stopped there and said no more you’d get as bad an idea of the movie as the title, but in all honesty this is the best horror movie I’ve seen this year by a long stretch.

If you’ve seen The Witch and enjoyed it (as I did), I can almost guarantee that you’ll get a lot of satisfaction out of this.  While it’s as connected to the goings on in Salem as The Witch, Pyewacket is a contemporary story, taking place in what looks like rural New England (it was filmed in Canada), but as well as that connective, thematic tissue, it also shares a distinctly creepy atmosphere and cloying sense of foreboding.  It also resonates with me because of two well-defined themes in regard to the specific nature of witchcraft and occult magic, and to the broad definition of horror as a whole.  I won’t expound on these pet themes of mine  here, but I see horror at its most successful when it deals with the inexorable doom of an innocent.  In movies like Candyman this is most evident.  No matter what the protagonist does, their situation winds tighter and tighter around them until death, or something equally bad, is the inevitable fate.  It’s a deeply personal throughline, unlike lesser movies that only serve up one pointless death after another.  And I’m extremely particular about black magic being a false salvation, with the high personal cost it requires from the user.  Pyewacket succeeds thanks to a largely terrific script by writer/director Adam MacDonald that’s heavy on character and ambiguity, but which also contains a couple of well done set pieces that  come at exactly the right times in the narrative, creating a supremely balanced horror movie.  I didn’t expect to be thrilled by this, but that’s exactly what happened after the closing scene.

Like A Dark Song, Pyewacket is the story of harnessing the power of the occult via ritual magic, with the ultimate goal of lashing out at others.  In Pyewacket, the ritual is authentic-seeming enough to appease me, and I’m a harsh critic of how the occult is generally depicted in horror movies.  What I really liked about the movie is the impact just performing the ritual has on Leah.  Dabbling in the occult is not for the faint of heart, and the regret Leah feels is palpable and almost instantaneous.  I loved this aspect of the movie, and Munoz delivers in a praise-worthy performance.  So too does Laurie Holden, recognizable from The Mist,  Silent Hill, and The Walking Dead.  Here, she is convincing as a recent widow struggling to maintain the relationship she has with her daughter, who is also trying to come to terms of her own grief over the loss of her father.  It’s never explained what happened to him, but it’s not necessary.  MacDonald’s script is pointedly focused on the gulf that grief has pushed between them, allowing for the occult to slink into that growing gap.

This is truly a small movie, but low-budget doesn’t imply low quality moviemaking.  Christian Bielz’s photography is terrific and moody, as is the musical score by Lee Malia, but the real star of the show is Adam MacDonald, whom I’d never heard of before.  This movie is the work of a real craftsman, and everything just seems to come together perfectly – I hope he doesn’t peak with this movie, but it’s hard to see him topping it any time soon.  The movie is produced by Jonathan Bronfman and Andrew Bronfman, who are also among the producers of both The Witch and another good little horror movie, The Void

I can’t say enough good things about the other cast members who round out the production.  Leah’s high school circle of friends are believably written, but also played well by Eric Osborne (Aaron), Romeo Carere (Rob), and especially Chloe Rose who, as Janice, is key in two of the movie’s most effective scenes.

At one point, I thought the movie could go off the rails if a minor character’s role in the movie became more important in act three, but MacDonald keeps it to a minimum – though having said that, I found this character’s two brief appearances in the movie to be mostly irrelevant to the narrative, as Leah is such a strongly written – and motivated – character she could easily have not needed the advice this character imparts.

I started off the review complaining about the title, but I’m going to tell you to ignore it. It’ll never grow on you – like I said, it didn’t grow on me even though I was familiar (heh) with the meaning – but it doesn’t need to.  Here, black magic is used to tell a story about the crippling effects of grief on the individual and the family, and how it can lead to destruction without the conscious effort to move on.  It’s a beautifully told horror movie, with much higher production values than lesser moviemakers could squeeze out of this budget.  The bottom line is, if you’re like me and include The Blair Witch Project and The Witch in your list of favourite horror movies, I can virtually guarantee that you’ll like Pyewacket.

4.0/5.0

©Andrew Hope, 2018

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Movie Review: A DARK SONG – overlong and repetitive with a “WTF?!” ending, but pays dividends for those with knowledge of the occult

Immodestly, I have a pretty wide knowledge of what’s considered “black magic” – it’s been an interest of mine since my very early teens.  I say this as someone who, simultaneously, has no belief whatsoever in the supernatural or magic, it’s just a subject that I’m endlessly fascinated by.  Recently, I saw a blurb on the internet claiming that a horror movie explored the Abremalin ritual in detail, so I had to see it for myself.  That movie is 2016’s A Dark Song.

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Movie Review: 7 WITCHES – low budget and a waaaaay too short running time dilute this indie horror’s potential. Could, and should, have been better.

One of my favourite horror elements is that of black magic, specifically witchcraft, and specifically performed by witches.  I never really took too much to the idea of wizards or warlocks – there’s just something about female practitioners of black magic that appeals to me, they seem darker, somehow.  Not that men can’t – the real world has a much higher ration of evil men to evil women, and maybe that’s where the appeal lies; it’s different in the world of the supernatural.  And I will be even more specific here – I prefer younger witches to the old ones.  Like the archetype of the vampire, there’s a strongly sexual appeal in the youthful-looking witch image.  They’re women who yield power confidently, unafraid, unrestrained.  I’ve always had a thing for Samantha from Bewitched, and Samantha Robinson as The Love Witch is about as sexy (and sociopathic) a practitioner as you could possibly find.  The movie 7 Witches features a another darkly sppealing witch, as part of a familial coven.  I watched this movie last night, knowing nothing about it, arriving as it did from a mysterious benefactor …

Continue reading “Movie Review: 7 WITCHES – low budget and a waaaaay too short running time dilute this indie horror’s potential. Could, and should, have been better.”

Movie Review: THE LOVE WITCH – extremely faithful homage to the camp horror of the 60s and 70s, with a great performance from its star.

I’ve seen some bizarre movies in my time, and I have to say, The Love Witch is up there.  If you haven’t heard of it, you’re not alone.  Released in November of 2016 it ended up with a domestic box office of less than a quarter million, but I feel it’s going to have an extended streaming shelf life through word of mouth.  Billed by many sites as a horror movie, I’ll tell you that it barely rises to meet that definition.  The witchcraft driven plot isn’t strong enough for it to be considered horror – it’s more of an occult thriller than anything else.

Continue reading “Movie Review: THE LOVE WITCH – extremely faithful homage to the camp horror of the 60s and 70s, with a great performance from its star.”

Movie Review: THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE – supernatural horror movie falters in places, but still delivers

the_autopsy_of_jane_doe

There are worse movie titles than The Autopsy of Jane Doe, I suppose, but it’s up there.  Having said that, it made me notice it enough to find out it was a horror movie starring Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch, which I found a little surprising.  Sure, it isn’t unheard of for name actors to be in horror movies (even B listers like Cox and Hirsch), but it’s rare – especially when the movie has no name talent attached behind the camera, something that generally signifies low budget and low smarts.  By this, I’m referring to the fodder you can see in Netflix’s horror lists – mostly a stream of shit that heads swiftly down the drain.

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Movie Review: SOUTHBOUND

southbound

If Southbound feels like part of the V/H/S franchise, the reason for that is not just the obvious anthology format, but the fact that some of the same talent is involved.  Roxanne Benjamin who wrote/directed the Siren segment of this movie was a producer on the first two V/H/S movies, and David Bruckner, who wrote/directed The Accident here also directed Amateur Night in the original V/H/S.  In terms of production quality, freed from the stifling “found footage” format, Southbound is a step up, allowing a much broader storytelling scope.  Side by side, the V/H/S franchise is the ugly sister.  It’s a neat coincidence that I watched this back to back with Carnage Park last night – while vastly different, the American southwest setting tied them together.

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Movie Review: THE WITCH

the witch

As someone with a deep attachment to the horror genre I consistently find myself thrilled or disappointed by it – there’s rarely a middle ground for me.  Being a purist, that limits my options even more.  I have no patience for schlock horror, and over reliance on gore is a real turn off for me too, mostly because it eschews the need for strong writing.  I don’t shy away from sub genres, though.  It’s just that the piece itself needs to contain strong characters and a sense of internal logic – once those two boxes are ticked, I’m largely good. Continue reading “Movie Review: THE WITCH”