Pyewacket – Movie Review

Official Synopsis:

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.

Review Summary:

Pyewacket comes to us from Adam MacDonald, director of Backcountry, a film with tension built through characters and situations, not overly relying on horror elements. I have monumental respect for indie filmmakers who pull this off. I know what it’s like to work with a limited budget–and little outside help–to create something effective.

Pyewacket deftly explores the consequences of decisions made out of anger, and how one moment of rage can destroy a family. Leah and her mother are dealing with a family tragedy, and in a terrible fit of anger, she turns to her love of the occult, conjuring a powerful force that begins to terrorize her family.

MacDonald uses minimal FX and a limited amount of resources to build tension through sound design, performances, and effective camera-work. He utilizes handheld shots to intensify the atmosphere, and where normally this guerrilla style look can cheapen a film, here it creates a fly-on-the-wall feeling. There’s one shot in particular around the 30-minute mark of something in the far distance of a wide. This is restraint at its best. The horrific creature doesn’t require a close up to be frightening. Sometimes it’s what’s in the background of a shot that proves the most unsettling. He often presents the POV of Pyewacket with a floating Steadicam or Ronin, and it gave me an uneasy sense of voyeurism that heightened the tension.

Nicole Muñoz is excellent in her dramatic scenes with her mother played by Laurie Holden. Similar to Backcountry, if you were to strip away the horror elements, there would still be a compelling character drama centered around a suffering relationship between mother and daughter.

However, the ending felt rushed. While I was able to make sense of what occurs, it felt like we needed an extra 10 minutes with the characters to breathe about what happens. At the same time, it’s also important to end a horror film at the height of tension or drama, so perhaps on second viewing, this won’t be as much of an issue. There’s also a disappointing cliche near the middle when a scary scene ends up being a joke.

There’s one FX shot that was unnecessary giving us a little look at Pyewacket. But I admire MacDonald’s way of cutting to something on the screen, rather than setting us up for a big reveal. He seems to understand that with horror, it’s about surprising the audience–and not with a loud noise–but with simply presenting something on the screen saying, “Here look at that.” The more I’ve thought about the film since seeing it, the more I’ve come to appreciate the restraint, which is a rare quality in horror films.

The theme of the film is that you are your own worst enemy, sometimes what we think we need in life, and how we struggle to obtain it, ultimately becomes our downfall. It’s a powerful message hidden in this little indie horror movie. I admire that the ending asks you to put the pieces together yourself, rather than handing the puzzle to you, already solved.

(See the above video review for a more in-depth discussion)

Grade: B+

Directed by: Adam MacDonald

Starring: Nicole Muñoz, Laurie Holden, Chloe Rose

MPAA Rating: N/A

Run Time: 87 min

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