If you’ve ever been a teenage girl (like this writer once was a long time ago), then you probably know all too well that there may not be a more tumultuous relationship during those formative years than the one you share with your mother. It’s a dynamic we’ve seen explored many times in genre cinema (Carrie, Excision, and Stoker being prime examples), and it’s the theme at the core of Adam MacDonald’s Pyewacket, a supernatural shocker that is a frightening reminder that you should always be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it. And in this case, “it” happens to be a manipulative demonic force with a nasty sense of humor.
Pyewacket follows struggling teen Leah (Nicole Muñoz), whose ability to connect with her mom (Laurie Holden) has been beyond strained after her father’s untimely death, especially since her mother hasn’t been coping well at all and feels unable to move forward both emotionally and psychologically. Realizing the need for a change, Leah learns that her mom is moving them into a new house, an event that drives a deeper wedge between the teen and her remaining parental unit. And as tensions continue to rise between them, Leah does the unthinkable: she utilizes a spell to put a death curse on her mother, not fully realizing the dark powers she has just unleashed into the world. At first, Leah isn’t convinced that her occult-driven actions would have any real ramifications, but once she begins being tormented by a demonic presence, Leah quickly realizes that she’s taken her malicious yearnings just a little too far.
As far as emotionally driven horror jaunts go, writer/director MacDonald has crafted a haunting and poignant exploration of how grief and unresolved anger can tear families apart. Because Leah’s mom has been so wrapped up in her own grief over the loss of her husband, it causes her child to find respite in the occult, and that lack of awareness and attention ends up being the downfall of what is left of their family in the end. There’s a brutal honesty to how MacDonald approaches the parent-child relationship here that rings very true with me, because I can remember many times when my mom and I would be butting heads over something, and I probably said some terrible stuff, or even thought some terrible stuff, too. Albeit, I’d never go so far as to dabble in the dark arts, but it’s that relatability to Leah’s frustration and abandonment that makes it so easy to understand just how on earth things could go this far between their characters in Pyewacket.
Muñoz and Holden deliver devastatingly raw performances that make my heart ache when the proverbial crap begins to hit the fan for this family. There’s a scene in which Leah and her mom are verbally going after each other relentlessly that is downright horrifying to watch, and it becomes the catalyst for all the horrors that follow, setting a tone of unease and distrust between mother and daughter. I really love their portrayals here, as they pull back the layers of conflict between these characters in a way that makes it easy to empathize with both sides in Pyewacket.
When it comes to horror movies that leave the biggest impression on me as a viewer, it’s usually the films that tap into my emotional core that hit me the hardest, which is why Pyewacket hit me with such a ferocious gut punch. Anchored by some stellar acting work from its leads, who dive deep into the sometimes turbulent kinship shared between parents and their progeny, the latest from MacDonald is without a doubt one of the finest excursions in pure terror to come out this year. Make no mistake, Pyewacket is not to be missed.
Movie Score: 4/5