‘Be careful what you wish for. Someone might be listening.’
Pyewacket is a 2016 Canadian horror feature film written and directed by Adam MacDonald (Backcountry). It stars Laurie Holden, Nicole Muñoz and Chloe Rose.
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…
There have been two ‘interesting’ trends developing within the horror genre of late. One is the rise of – cough – ‘intelligent horror’, used to describe horror films that mainstream critics approve of because of some alleged ‘deeper meaning’ or similarly vacuous qualities than can be used as an excuse to approve of the film; as well as insulting the genre as a whole (the implication being, of course, that ‘other’ horror films are dumb movies for dumb people), the whole idea is laughable, as many of these ‘intelligent’ horror films are simply empty exercises in style over substance, ‘hot takes’ over actual storytelling.
The other trend is the ‘festival hit’ – as horror (and, indeed, non-horror) festivals around the UK and the wider world increase, so does the chance that a movie that would otherwise vanish, unnoticed, into straight-to-DVD obscurity suddenly finds itself the subject of intense fan gushing, often stoked (understandably) by festival hype. Some very good films have been rescued from oblivion this way; unfortunately, rather more terrible films have been excessively bigged up, leaving viewers who weren’t caught up in the festival excitement to wonder just what the hell everyone was thinking – were distributors pumping mind control drugs into the cinema air conditioning systems?
I say all this because Pyewacket falls into both categories, and frankly is such an empty, shallow and disposable film that there really isn’t very much to be said about it as a movie. Nicole Munoz is teen goth Leah, who has a difficult relationship with her recently-widowed mother (Laurie Holden), who moves them both out to the woods for some reason or other. Leah responds by using a witchcraft ritual to summon a demon to kill her mum, only to then change her mind.
With goth teens who would seem a shallow cliché even in a 1980s movie, a pace that is leaden to the point of nothing at all happening, and an empty ambiguity that thick people will interpret as meaningful, Pyewacket is nicely shot and not unwatchable, but ultimately very dull as you wait for something to happen – and very irritating when you realise that nothing has, once the closing credits roll.
It’s the sort of film that you’ll struggle to remember anything about the day after you saw it. Don’t believe the hype.
David Flint, HORRORPEDIA
Buy DVD: Amazon.co.uk
“Beautifully shot with impressive performances all around, what’s great about Pyewacket is that it never over plays its hand. MacDonald is never trying too hard to shock the audience and is more determined to make his film believable than anything else. In that regard, he still delivers on his promise and offers up a shocking finale that’s equally crushing as it’s mortifying.” Brad Miska, Bloody Disgusting
“The film makes good use of sound (example the crescendo of traffic noise) for scare effects. The cinematography (the woods with no leaves) by Christian Bielz also adds an eerie creepiness. Pyewacket ends up a solid scare flick but it could do with more gore and violence.” Festival Reviews
“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…” Jenny Kermode, Eye for Film
“MacDonald is trying to be a filmmaker of ideas here (as opposed to in Backcountry, which worked purely viscerally), but the metaphor doesn’t develop or deepen as the film goes on. Instead, it just sits there, heavy and inert, while the camera creeps through the woods Evil Dead-style…” Adam Nayman, Cinema Scope
“The film isn’t terrible per se, it just feels underwhelming right up to and including an ending that screams “ho-hum.” […] Munoz doesn’t get much help from a pedestrian script although the wraith-like demon is quite well done. The result is a horror-lite film that barely increases the heart rate.” Peter Howell, Toronto Star
“As with the recent The Devil’s Candy and IT, MacDonald’s film makes a point of ensuring we care about the lead which in turn adds an intensity to the scenes of terror and danger. And some of those scenes are fucking terrifying. The presence first makes itself known through sounds around the house before eventually appearing as a dark figure rising slowly at the foot of Leah’s bed.” Rob Hunter, Film School Rejects
“MacDonald and his sound crew really crank up the volume, which helps every crunching leaf, whistling wind and creaky floorboard stand out. Horror movies are notoriously reliant on their soundtrack – be it score or sound effect – and MacDonald’s heightened sensory output definitely helps to keep Pyewacket a tense and involving viewing experience.” Joe Lipsett, Bloody Disgusting
” …the heavy-handed score, narrow performances (Nicole Munoz as the repeatedly terrified daughter; Laurie Holden as the dense mum) and weak dialogue all fail to justify a provocative ending that overturns the exorcising conventions of the genre.” Kate Taylor, The Globe and Mail
“It feels believable and tense through great acting and the crew’s use of the natural elements around them to create a spooky atmosphere rooted in witchcraft and ancient folklore. The dark premise of this film will surely keep your attention hooked and will not disappoint in the effects department.” Abigail Braman, Nightmarish Conjurings
“Despite some half-formed, but well-meaning performances, its slow, dread-less and fairly stale dramatically, making it thoroughly difficult to care about. There’s definitely talent on the screen somewhere, but as a piece of genre filmmaking, this one takes itself much too seriously, and never fully manages to make a proper splash, or a splash of any kind really.” Ben Robins, HeyUGuys
“An effective, small-scale supernatural-psychological drama rooted in credible, uncaricatured teen angst and a sense of ancient woodland evil […] In a measured performance, Holden alternates between bewildered concern for a self-harming teenager and icy, contemptuous malice – while Munoz is impressive as a girl terrified of the consequences of her own feelings.” The Kim Newman Web Site
” …one of Pyewacket’s triumphs is the way it keeps its horrors grounded in reality, and its character in the forefront, proving you can be both smart and pretty scary; a good lesson for the genre.” Chris Knight, National Post
“Pyewacket is a memorable entry into the genre of dark, disturbing horror (à la recent gems Kill List or The Witch) that is certainly not the fun, disposable watch its teen-goth-Wiccan premise might suggest. With it, MacDonald solidifies his status as a talented horror director with a knack for choosing interesting material that suits his sensibilities (and abilities).” Teresa Nieman, Screen Anarchy
“It feels like a 30 minute piece that’s been steamrollered out to feature length […] If movies like The Witch (which I will admit I loved) or It Comes At Night worked for you then you might want to give Pyewacket a watch, but those who require something a little faster paced be warned: this is a Very. Slow. Movie. Where Not. Much. Happens.” John Llewellyn Probert, House of Mortal Cinema
“Assuming you can handle the tension, this would be a great entry-level movie for someone wanting to get their feet wet on the witchcraft/occult side of things. There’s very little blood, nothing gory, a few mild jump scares, but that’s not really where the soul of this film lies. Its strength is in the tension and growing creepiness as things slowly spiral out of control.” The Scariest Things
Cast and characters:
- Laurie Holden … Mrs Reyes
- Nicole Muñoz … Leah
- Chloe Rose
- Eric Osborne … Aaron
- James McGowan
- Bianca Melchior … Pyewacket
Pyewacket was released in the UK on digital HD April 16th and DVD on April 23rd from Signature Entertainment.
Pyewacket was one of the familiar spirits of a witch detected by the “witchfinder general” Matthew Hopkins in March 1644 in the town of Manningtree, Essex, England.