Sunday, July 15, 2018

PYEWACKET (2017) : Careful What You Wish For.....

Remember when they tell you to watch what you wish for? Well, in Adam MacDonald's 2017 Canadian horror film PYEWACKET, those words could not prove more true.  Or more disastrous. 

Starring Nicole Muñoz (Hemlock Grove) and Laurie Holden (The Walking Dead, The X-Files), it comes off at first as very much a teen angst drama but eventually morphs into something a little more like The Witch than The Craft.

The name Pyewacket refers to a witch's familiar, an evil spirit if you will, which was supposedly identified by Matthew Hopkins, a.k.a. the Witchfinder General in the 17th century.  This is someone who was directly responsible for over 300 women being hanged for witchcraft in England. The definition of asshole, in my opinion.

Muñoz plays Leah, a teen whose life is already difficult and anxiety-ridden because of the death of her father.  She has done her own type of rebelling, which in truth is rather stereotypical - eyeliner, dark clothes, moody friends - she's acting out, mouthing off to her just barely coping mother, the whole nine yards.  Being the good little goth that she is, Leah has acquired an interest in the occult, and owns several books on witchcraft and black magic - which come in handy after her mother explains that she just can't stay in their house anymore, the memories are just too painful.

So when Mom (the always stellar Holden) uproots them to move to a cabin in the woods (doesn't she know better?!), the unsurprising reaction from Leah - and any teenager I'm sure - is utter devastation.  Though her mom promises to drive her to school every day, which I found to be an extremely generous offer instead of making her change schools.  There is certainly the question of why a single mom would move her daughter and herself out into the middle of nowhere, but I'm going to suspend my disbelief for a bit. 

Muñoz is very believable in her portrayal of a teen full of a resentful, bitchy attitude, and her fit of venomous hatred directed at her mom after finding out they are moving was pretty much spot on.  I would have acted the same way, probably while blaring Black Sabbath back in the day. 

Holden also holds her own as a shattered parent who finally has to think of herself first and make the separation from the past to continue living in the present.  She does try to make it a tolerable situation for Leah, but her daughter is just a little too pissed off right now.

The settle in at the new house - which incidentally is quite nice - and though Mom is trying to allow her daughter some space, they still have a massive argument in which Mom tells Leah something along the lines of 'I wish I didn't even have to look at you because you remind me of your father', which was said in a moment of rash anger, but Leah is wrecked by the outburst and runs to her room.  After wishing her mother dead, she digs through her closet of still unopened boxes, she finds what she is looking for.  A book on black magic. Assembling all the necessary items and writing down the spell she needs, she heads for the woods.

Hearkening back to films like The Craft, Wishmaster and maybe most of all, Pumpkinhead, Pyewacket takes the age old warning of being careful what you wish for to tragic levels of misfortune.  At first, Leah doesn't notice anything, and has remorse for her actions because her mother starts to brighten up and become happier in her new surroundings, her kindness falling onto Leah as well.  You can tell Leah knows she made a hasty and ill-advised decision in the heat of the moment, and now she's hoping nothing comes of her late night incantations. 

But as is always the case, what you do to others will come back to bite you right in the ass, most times being much more catastrophic and lamentable.  When Leah is unable to sleep the first night after casting her spell, it's obvious regret is swallowing her whole...but then she hears a noise in the attic and soon comes to understand the consequences of her actions.

Pyewacket isn't really breaking any new ground here, and some may find its pace ponderous, but I enjoyed the slow build up.  These are the kind of films I find interesting, when there is a long set-up and you just know something horrendous is about to happen.  Strong endings can help a film succeed even when you sometimes feel like nothing really profound has really happened throughout three-fourths of the running time.  Another recent example of this would be 2018's Hereditary. 

Both Muñoz and Holden were in top-notch form here and helped the material really sell itself.  Each were skillful at representing the emotions that their characters would have in these kind of life traumas - a woman riddled with grief dealing with the death of her husband and realizing she would have to raise a child alone - and an already sulky teenager coping with not only the death of her father but being displaced from the only home she's ever known and from the most important relationship in a teenager's life - her friends.  Teens are always making short-sighted decisions, but Leah makes the mother of all bad choices here.

Like so many movies before it, the location of the cabin in the woods here felt like a character itself, as is the case in many films that center around a tree-laden locale.  The woods themselves seem to speak, warning of danger but I'll be damned if NO ONE ever listens.  And let's face it, combining the woods with witchcraft will always be a bad idea.  I can't even begin to list the films that have taught us that! But there is nothing I like more than when the woods themselves speak to an audience.  The ominous darkness.  The whisper of a branch moving in the wind.  The army of trees ready to swallow you up in utter terror.  It's one of my favorite horror movie venues.  Beware the dark forest!

Writer/director MacDonald also brought us the fun little lost-in-the-woods thriller, Backcountry, which I really enjoyed as well.  It was a tense and at times merciless venture which also starred a big black bear. Fun times! Pyewacket is his second film project and I am excited to see what's next from him.

Pyewacket probably wouldn't win any awards, but it is a great way to kill 90 minutes on a random Tuesday night.  That said, it will leave you thinking about bad choices you've made, what an awful teenager you probably were, and (hopefully) counting your blessings that you never wished for anything so much that you'd sell your soul.