Movie Review: ‘Pyewacket’

2017 Canadian Horror Film Starring Nicole Muñoz and Laurie Holden, directed by Adam MacDonald

     Pyewacket tells the story of a struggling mother-daughter relationship.  Leah and her mother have a contentious relationship ever since Leah’s father died.  In an effort to get a fresh start, Leah’s mother moves them to an out-of-the-way town, to a cabin in the woods.  Feeling like her mother doesn’t care and missing her old life, in a fit of rage Leah heads to the woods and invokes a dark spirit, Pyewacket, to kill her mother.

     Pyewacket is a classic tale of “be careful what you wish for,” but the key to this movie’s success is the relationship between the two leads.  It would be very easy to make Mrs. Reyes an exaggerated spinster shrew, and equally easy to make Leah into a spoiled brat who stomps to her room when she doesn’t get her way.  But this movie makes it easy to see both sides.

     Leah feels alone in dealing with her father’s death.  Her mother is a wreck, and can’t see past her own pain, often lashing out at Leah because she is the one that she CAN lash out at.  Mrs. Reyes, on the other hand, knows she is in a downward spiral, and is frustrated with Leah’s lack of understanding and flexibility in helping them to move on.  While this movie shows the worst parts of both of them, it also shows why we should sympathize with each of them, which is a rarity when dealing with the mother-daughter relationship in cinema.  Typically, we are meant to take one side or the other, when in reality there is more than one way to deal with grief and loss.

     When Leah heads out to the woods, the audience is fully with her.  Sure, she is acting ridiculously on an angst-ridden impulse, but the fight that she just had with her mom is pretty brutal.  Both women are fiery and impulsive in the way that they deal with each other, and it ends in the matriarch saying something pretty awful, something that might be forgiven, but can’t be taken back.  And in that moment, you are WITH HER when she collects what she needs and runs to the woods.  She had plenty of time to cool off as she is performing this ritual, but she won’t, and the audience is pretty okay with it.  You know full well that she will regret it, but you can sympathize with her reasons.

     Later, during an awkward dinner, Mrs. Reyes notices that Leah’s arm is bleeding (a result of the bloodletting required of the ritual).  The argument is immediately forgotten.  She swoops in, grabs her daughter, cleans the wound and apologizes for the argument.  Her guilt is clear, and for the first time Leah realizes that her mother is not entirely selfish in her grief, but just hasn’t been capable of handling both hers and her daughter’s all at once.  As their relationship continues to improve from here, Leah’s guilt mounts.  Because, as all self-respecting horror fans know, there is no going back from a spell bound in blood.  Blood means you really mean it.

     As the spirit draws closer and closer, Leah becomes increasingly panicked in her race to stop it.  The witch itself is well-drawn and creepy, though seldom seen.  Much of it reminded me of The Blair Witch Project – cracking tree branches, shadows, and small suggestions that something is there, just out of the corner of your eye.  Because the spirit is rarely seen, it is easy to feel like it is always there, just waiting to jump out.  Leah’s paranoia and desperation grows, and she starts to question what is real as the story races to its brutal ending.

     Pyewacket is a mother-daughter tale that is brutally honest and refreshingly multi-sided.  The performances from the two leads are stunning, and make you feel as if you can really understand what each is going through.  If you’re looking for a witch-in-the-woods tale that delivers, be sure to check out this Canadian gem!

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