Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"Pyewacket takes a simple story – a modern interpretation of an age old morality tale – and spins it out slowly to ratchet up the tension."

1976 Dennis Wheatley adaptation To The Devil A Daughter notably contains the assertion that 95 percent of those who dabble in the occult are only interested in its trappings; it’s the other five percent one might worry about. Teenagers using occult imagery is a longstanding tradition aimed primarily at distancing more prudish adults, but Leah (Nicole Muñoz) takes it more seriously. Whilst her friends’ interest is playful, revolving around heavy metal and silly rituals aimed at improving their probably non-existent sex lives, Leah is undertaking some serious study. She has developed a scholarly fascination with the subject. Perhaps it stems from the trauma of her father’s death. Nevertheless, it might have remained purely academic were it not for her disintegrating relationship with her mother.

Leah’s mother (Laurie Holden) is struggling with her own grief and with the usual stress caused by raising a teenager. Without discussing the subject, she decides that they’re going to move house – they’ll be close enough for Leah to stay at the same school but far enough away to destroy her social life. An argument about it descends into spite. Leah, who has recently been reading about Matthew Hopkins (the Witchfinder General famously depicted on film by Vincent Price), goes out into the woods and proceeds to summon a notorious spirit with which he is said to have dealt – the titular Pyewacket. She wants her mother dead.

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Emotions at that age can be intense, but they don’t always last long. When the next day, Leah’s mother makes a heartfelt apology for her behaviour, the girl instantly regrets what she’s done. She tries to put it out of her mind. It probably is just fantasy, isn’t it? Her friends tell her so. But when she starts to hear strange noises in the attic, when she wakes up to find herself lying in the woods where her ritual was conducted, she begins to get some serious chills.

Pyewacket takes a simple story – a modern interpretation of an age old morality tale – and spins it out slowly to ratchet up the tension. It’s steeped in horror lore to please the fans – Leah even journeys into Lovecraft’s old home town of Providence, Rhode Island, so seek out an author she believes might help – yet this never seems gratuitous, and it has a strong internal logic of its own. Muñoz’s performance will be easy for teenage viewers to identify with and very effectively captures the sense of disorientation that can make it easy to make mistakes at that age, whether there are demons to deal with or not. She has good chemistry with Holden which helps the film to maintain a sense of realism even as events take us further outside the boundaries of the familiar world.

There’s nothing especially unusual here, but Pyewacket delivers on its premise and acts as a reminder that a thorough approach to the craft of storytelling will always give a film that bit more bite.

Reviewed on: 03 Mar 2018
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A frustrated, angst-ridden teenage girl awakens something in the woods when she naively performs an occult ritual to evoke a witch to kill her mother.

Director: Adam MacDonald

Writer: Adam MacDonald

Starring: Nicole Muñoz, Laurie Holden, Chloe Rose, Eric Osborne

Year: 2017

Runtime: 90 minutes

Country: Canada


Glasgow 2018

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