×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Pyewacket’

A dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship leads to occult grief in Adam MacDonald's intriguing Canadian horror movie.

Director:
Adam MacDonald
With:
Laurie Holden, Nicole Munoz, Chloe Rose, Eric Osborne, Romeo Carere, James McGowan.
Release Date:
Mar 23, 2018

1 hour 28 minutes

Intriguing Canadian horror pic “Pyewacket” is sort of “Lady Bird” in extremis: Its heroine is a teen caught in an antagonistic relationship with her single mum who becomes so unhappy that she casts an occult spell, to everyone’s eventual grief. A sinister mix of dysfunctional-adolescent drama and horror-movie elements, Adam MacDonald’s sophomore feature is perhaps ultimately more successful in the former terms than the latter — some genre fans may find there’s not quite enough conventional payoff. It’s the rare horror film that’s actually more effective in psychological terms than in suspense ones.

Fifteen-year-old Leah (Nicole Munoz) is furious and miserable when her combative if well-meaning, recently-widowed mother (“The Walking Dead’s” Laurie Holden) relocates them both to a house in the woods, isolating her already conspicuously disgruntled only child from the few friends she has, notably bestie Janice (Chloe Rose) and almost-boyfriend Aaron (Eric Osbourn).

Goth-styled lass that she is, Leah peevishly consults a handy black magic book to summon a demon … because, y’know, mean moms deserve demonic punishment. Unfortunately, her supernatural transgression turns out to have all-too-real consequences. They first manifest themselves as a series of ephemeral disturbances around the rural home, but soon turn more actively life-threatening.

With its focus on a nicely detailed, credibly problematic single-parent relationship — neither Leah nor her mother come off particularly well here — “Pyewacket” gets out of the gate with conspicuously more intelligence for “just a” horror film. (In one nice exchange from MacDonald’s sharp screenplay, the erratic-acting mother says, “I need you on my side,” to which Leah frankly replies, “You’re all over the place.”)

Its restraint is manifested in, among other things, very fleeting, shadowy views of the titular menace. There’s a fair sense of urgency to the escalating emergency, as well as a neat irony to the way things ultimately work out. (Hint: not well.) But the climax feels abrupt, and the horror elements may strike some as ultimately not potent enough to satisfy, given that they’re the direction this movie is headed in.

Nonetheless, this second feature for writer-director MacDonald (whose debut “Backcountry” was an effectively stripped-down tale of non-supernatural wilderness peril) has admirable strengths. There’s an understated, elegant confidence to its presentation from the opening, which immediately makes the woods a sinister presence. And the performers are very skillfully handled, from Holden’s particularly strong turn as an exasperatingly unpredictable parent who grows sensitive to her also-grieving child’s needs a tad late, to the palpable, near-wordless terms by which we realize Leah and Aaron are falling in love.

With effective additional support from Lee Walia’s score and all other tech/design contributors, “Pyewacket” is a movie that actually benefits from repeat viewings — though at first watch it may disappoint those looking for traditional jump scares and gore.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'Pyewacket'

Reviewed online, San Francisco, March 23, 2018. (In Toronto Film Festival.) Running time: 88 MIN.

Production: (Canada) An IFC Midnight release (U.S.) of an Entertainment One presentation of a JoBro, Just Believe production, in association with Tall Media, Cave Painting Pictures. Producers: Jonathan Bronfman, Victoria Sanchez-Mandryk. Executive producers: Jeffrey Sackman, Joe Sisto, Anne-Claire Villeneuve, Patrick Koy.

Crew: Director, writer: Adam MacDonald. Camera (color, widescreen, HD): Christian Bielz. Editor: Maureen Grant. Music: Lee Malia.

With: Laurie Holden, Nicole Munoz, Chloe Rose, Eric Osborne, Romeo Carere, James McGowan.

More Film

  • Rugrats. Nickeoldeon Animation Studios

    Film News Roundup: 'Rugrats' Writer David N. Weiss Honored by Animation Writers

    In today’s film news roundup, David N. Weiss is honored, Rin Tin Tin is getting a modern movie and “The Shasta Triangle” finds a home. WEISS HONORED David N. Weiss will receive the animation writing award from the Animation Writers Caucus of the Writers Guild of America West. The award will be presented by Weiss’ [...]

  • Marrakech Chief on Selecting Arthouse Films

    Marrakech Chief on Selecting Arthouse Films With a Big Stress on the Word 'Art'

    The 18th edition of the Marrakech Film Festival (Nov. 29-Dec. 7) – one of the leading cultural events in the Africa and Middle East region – will screen 98 films from 34 countries. The fest is also reinforcing its industry presence this year through the second edition of the Atlas Workshops, sponsored by Netflix, which [...]

  • Emma Stone Brad Pitt Damien Chazelle

    Paramount Lands Damien Chazelle's 'Babylon,' Dates It for Christmas 2021

    Paramount Pictures has landed the worldwide rights to Damien Chazelle’s next feature film “Babylon,” sources tell Variety. Insiders add the studio has dated the film for a Dec. 25, 2021 limited release, with plans to go wide on Jan. 7. The release date puts in prime position for another awards season run for Chazelle, who [...]

  • Chris Pratt

    Chris Pratt's Sci-Fi Film 'The Tomorrow War' Gets Release Date

    Chris Pratt’s upcoming sci-fi actioner, which was recently retitled “The Tomorrow War,” has set a Christmas Day 2020 release date. The Paramount film was formerly titled “Ghost Draft.” It follows a man (played by Pratt) who is drafted to fight a future war in which the fate of humanity may rely on his ability to [...]

  • Kim Dong-Ho of GIFF Chairman of

    Inaugural Gangneung Film Festival Pays Tribute to Pierre Rissient

    The opening ceremony of the first edition of the Gangneung International Film Festival was dominated by a tribute to the French film scout and festival selector Pierre Rissient, who died in May 2018. The new festival, 240 km from Seoul, counts former Busan festival co-founder Kim Dong-ho as its chairman and former Bucheon festival head [...]

  • 'Waves': Sterling K. Brown and Trey

    'Waves' Cast Reflects on the Making of the Tragic Family Drama

    “Waves,” a partially autobiographical film written and directed by Trey Edward Shults, is a visually arresting look at the fraying of an upper-middle class black family in South Florida in the aftermath of a violent tragedy. It examines themes of grief, domestic violence, substance abuse and modern-day pressures on kids to succeed. “Propelled by color, [...]

  • Gaston Pavlovich

    Gaston Pavlovich Talks About Producing 'The Irishman'

    Through his production company Fabrica De Cine, Gastón Pavlovich is one of the producers on Martin Scorsese’s two most recent movies: 2016’s “Silence” and 2019’s “The Irishman.” The 51-year-old native of Mexico first gained notice as an executive producer on the Tom Hanks comedy-drama “A Hologram for the King.” Pavlovich also began working with Scorsese [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content