For The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw, writer/director Thomas Robert Lee transports viewers to a small community in 1973 that is on the brink of annihilation. Pestilence has ravaged the land, the mortality rates for children in the area are horrifically high and the only person who is seemingly untouched by these unfortunate occurrences is Agatha Earnshaw (Catherine Walker), who lives in exile outside the tight-knit religious colony. She is the only resident who seems to be thriving, and always has plenty to eat, but she doesn’t share her bounty with the other villagers as they have long suspected that Agatha has pledged her allegiance to dark forces, and so she feels no remorse about letting those who wish her ill suffer in turn.
But it’s Agatha’s secret that is the biggest reason she has no desire to co-mingle with the other residents: she has a daughter named Audrey (Jessica Reynolds), and her progeny has managed to grow up over the last 17 years exempt from the maladies that have afflicted everyone else around around her. The film’s opening crawl tells us that Audrey was born during an eclipse in 1956, which is when everything changed in the community, and it was the arrival of Agatha’s daughter that sealed the fate of everyone else in that small town, only they had no idea.
And as it turns out, everything that the villagers have long suspected about Agatha is true – but what they cannot possibly begin to realize is that it is Audrey who is the biggest threat to them all, and after seeing her mother continually mistreated by everyone, she’s done hiding in the shadows and is ready to unleash her own brand of retribution on everyone who crosses her path.
A haunting and unflinching tale of vengeance of witchcraft, The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw does an outstanding job of immersing us in a world of folk horror that time has seemingly left behind. There is no modern technology (well, modern by 1973 standards), no telephones, no electricity or cars, and the beliefs of those who reside in this place perfectly reflect that absence of modernity as well. Cinematographer Nick Thomas captures the oppressive nature of the environment beautifully, and the film’s color-stripped palette feels perfectly bleak and dripping in desperation, much like those who are suffering in Lee’s narrative.
While the story itself involves quite a few mysteries that never get explained in any sort of meaningful way, that ambiguity only made The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw that much more evocative of a viewing experience for this writer, and I almost preferred not having everything totally spelled out for me by the time the credits rolled (others may have different feelings). The two biggest assets of the film are undoubtedly the performances of Walker and Reynolds, who are both absolutely spellbinding here. There’s no doubt that the character of Agatha is a something of a danger to everyone else, due to her dabbling in witchcraft, but it’s Audrey’s transformation from a girl who has been tucked away from the world into a powerful woman who is only beginning to discover her powers, is enthralling and terrifying all the same.
There are definitely elements of The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw that have earmarks of stories we’ve seen before: Carrie, The Witch, and The Scarlett Letter were just a few that came to mind to me. But it’s the way that Lee blends those elements into something very different and very unexpected that won me over in the end.
Movie Score: 4/5
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