Sunday, May 27, 2018

Pyewacket (2017)

Leah (Nicole Muñoz) is a sad as well as classically angsty teenager. She is plagued by a bit more than your usual teenage malaise, though. After the death of her father, her mother (Laurie Holden) has fallen into a deep depression, and is teetering on the edge of alcoholism. In her state, she has certainly no emotional capacity left to help her daughter through her grief; instead, it’s anger and resentment from both sides, Leah spending much of her spare time escaping into her fascination with the occult.

Mom’s trying to drag herself up again, but her best plan for that – or really her decision, it’s not as if she’d involve her daughter in the planning – is to sell the house they lived in with the father and move to some lone house in the woods a two hours drive away from their old home. This does of course also mean that Leah will have to change schools soon, potentially losing the bit of stability and help her small group of friends – all outsiders like her – provide her with. Inevitably, the move does happen – the mother’s best offer being to move the change of schools six months or so further into the future.

When the mother and Leah have another argument, and mom says the sort of thing to her that’s so hurtful it usually marks either the complete destruction of a mother-child relationship or the parental unit realizing what she’s doing and turning things around, Leah storms into the woods and performs a ritual supposed to conjure up a spirit known as Pyewacket, tasking it to kill her mother.

In a classic case of cosmic irony, Leah’s mother does indeed begin to turn herself around and act like the grown-up in the relationship in the following days, so Leah tries to just forget about her ritual and learning to trust her mother again. Unfortunately, she did indeed open the door to Pyewacket and soon a series of increasingly disturbing manifestations haunts the house. If Leah doesn’t find a way to un-summon what she has called up, her mother might indeed die.

There have been a couple of excellent horror movies about teenage girls, their mothers, their dead fathers and trouble brought about by occult rituals in the last year or so. Adam MacDonald’s Pyewacket is certainly one of them. This particular example of the potential new sub-genre recommends itself at first through the calm and truthful feeling manner MacDonald introduces the audience into Leah’s world. This isn’t a film in the style of 50s teenage rebellion movies that’s raising eyebrows and wagging fingers at Leah and her problems, but a film that does its utmost to portray her pain and her emotional troubles seriously, with compassion and understanding. And while the film is painfully honest and believable about the arguments between Leah and her mother, it isn’t judging the mother either as simply as you at first might believe. As a portrayal of grief causing dysfunction between exactly the people who should help one another through it, the film is excellent, with the big argument that’s the turning point of the plot and the relationship between mother and daughter particularly truthful.

While MacDonald is taking great care with this aspect of the movie, Pyewacket is also very much an actual horror film that climaxes in a series of very well-weighed and pretty damn horrific in your face scenes that gain particular force by following a series of scenes which gain their disquieting power by the things they are not showing. The whole sequence with the visit of Leah’s friend is a particularly effective example here, the audience never seeing or learning what exactly leads to her completely breaking down. After that, the explicitness of the actual climax feels even more shocking than should befit its content.

Pyewacket is very much in tune with the classic weird, using thematically highly appropriate elements like the Doppelgänger motive in elegant and deeply disquieting ways, clearly making the dark sides of Leah and her mother even more visible than the more naturalistic scenes already did, but also adding an inhuman dimension to them that makes them more than mere metaphor.

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