Pyewacket (Canada, 2017)
Most years when I do the OHMC, I’ll start the month with a list of films I plan to watch and end it with a completely different list. I’ll delete entries if I hear that a film is terrible or add others if something new and exciting comes along. In the case of the latter, that often means bumping otherwise promising choices. I’m pretty sure I bumped Pyewacket last year, and maybe even the year before. Having just watched it, I now realise what a mistake that was.
Pyewacket is currently available on Shudder in the UK.
Following the death of her father, Leah and her mother deal with their grief in very different ways. Leah’s mother drowns her sorrows in wine, drunkenly berating her daughter and going into bouts of depression. Meanwhile, Leah develops an obsession with the occult.
Leah is distraught when her mother decides the best way to break out of her own downward spiral is to move house, uprooting to a nearby town. This will cut Leah off from her friends, but her mother is unsympathetic. And so the two relocate to a house on the edge of the woods.
All this proves too much, and Leah erupts in an tearfully angry outburst. Her mother responds with some cruel, almost unforgiveable attacks. Consumed by adolescent rage, Leah runs out to the woods to perform a ritual. Making an offering of her own blood, Leah calls upon a spirit named Pyewacket, asking it to kill her mother. When Leah returns home, however, her mother’s attitude has softened, and Leah immediately regrets what she has done.
Will Leah be able to put down that which she has called up? What horrors does Pyewacket have planned? And is everything heading inexorably towards death and disaster?
With its angst-ridden, magic-obsessed teen protagonist, Pyewacket might sound like a YA tale. In execution, however, it very much is not. This is a dark, emotionally rich film that deals with its subject matter in an unapologetically adult manner. It’s a horror film about teens, but not necessarily for teens.
The woodlands setting is used to great effect, especially in the autumn months when the story is set. Although the woods are no creepier than any normal forest, the film still manages to make them feel like somewhere witchcraft could flourish. I wouldn’t necessarily classify Pyewacket as folk horror, but this remote setting and its connections with old magic place it at least in the penumbra of the genre.
While the film makes does not explain the origin, the name Pyewacket comes from a dark chapter of English history. It was one of the purported familiar spirits mentioned by the women of Manningtree, in Essex, when Matthew Hopkins, the Witchfinder General, tortured confessions of witchcraft from them.
Pyewacket is a subtle, creepy film that starts out slowly and builds to an almost unbearable crescendo of dread. It takes around 30 minutes before anything even remotely weird happens. Even by the third act, we’ve hardly seen more than creepy shadows. This is a film about familial conflicts and adolescent angst more than anything. It is important that we are steeped in the reality of the situation before introducing anything overtly supernatural.
The dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship we see unfolding drives the film throughout. At times, Leah’s mother is almost too perfectly cruel in the things she says, but not cartoonishly so. The only time her portrayal really strains credulity is after Leah’s ritual, when her mother suddenly rediscovers her kind and caring side, becoming entirely sympathetic in an instant. I can see how moving house has mitigated her trauma, but some nuance wouldn’t have hurt. This is not a fatal flaw, however, and the rest of the film is good enough to make me overlook it.
Ultimately, Pyewacket is simply a terrific horror film. The payoffs in the last half hour land like a series of body blows, resulting in a pitch black ending that leaves us both hurting and wondering. If you like supernatural horror that is both subtle and merciless, you could do a lot worse than Pyewacket.
The October Horror Movie Challenge
Please do join in and share your own thoughts with us about this or any other films as the month goes on. You can usually find us on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Discord, or lurking in the dark corners of your home.
If you would like to play along at home, my provisional selections are:
- Dark August (USA, 1976)
- Huesera: The Bone Woman (Mexico/Peru, 2022)
- The Banishing (UK, 2020)
- Brooklyn 45 (USA, 2023)
- Bloody Muscle Bodybuilder in Hell (Japan, 1995)
- Pyewacket (Canada, 2017)
- Grave Robbers (Mexico, 1989)
- You Might Be The Killer (USA, 2018)
- No One Will Save You (USA, 2023)
- The Sect (Italy, 1991)
- Last Night in Soho (UK, 2021)
- Errementari: The Blacksmith and the Devil (Spain, 2017)
- 47 Metres Down (UK/USA, 2017)
- The Oskars Fantasy (Philippines, 2022)
- In the Earth (UK, 2021)
- Something in the Dirt (USA, 2022)
- Blood Flower (Malaysia, 2023)
- Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II (Canada, 1987)
- Older Gods (UK, 2023)
- Come to Daddy (New Zealand, 2020)
- Shrew’s Nest (Spain, 2014)
- Totally Killer (USA, 2023)
- The Premonition (USA, 1976)
- Murder Me, Monster (Argentina, 2018)
- The Gruesome Twosome (USA, 1967)
- Talk to Me (Australia, 2023)
- Gaia (South Africa, 2021)
- Demon (Poland, 2015)
- Juju Stories (Nigeria, 2022)
- El Conde (Chile, 2023)
- The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (Hong Kong/UK, 1974)
A Final Note
If you have been enticed here by these posts, please do look around at some of our other film reviews. We also have a podcast, called The Good Friends of Jackson Elias, which occasionally covers horror films. If this appeals, you might want to check out some of the following episodes.
- The Night House
- The Changeling
- The Endless
- Our favourite Cthulhu Mythos media
- The Fly
- A Dark Song
- The Thing
- The Ritual
- The Wicker Man
- The Stone Tape
- Event Horizon
- The Witch
- INLAND EMPIRE
- Nightbreed and Lord of Illusions
- Maléfique and The Ninth Gate
- Re-Animator and From Beyond
- Repulsion and The Babdook
- Man Bites Dog, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon and S&man
- A selection of weird films
- David Cronenberg
- The films that scared us most
If you dig through the archives, you will also find episodes about a wide variety of horror stories and games. Happy nightmares!