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Dustin Putman

Pyewacket  (2018)

Reviewed for by Dustin Putman

The Film
2.5 Stars
(Release Date: August 7, 2018) – "Pyewacket" takes an age-old proverb—"Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it"—and puts its own diabolical spin on it. Writer-director Adam MacDonald, who previously helmed 2015's unbearably tense "Backcountry," knows exactly how to draw viewers into a deliberately paced web heightened by tight coils of apprehension. By taking his time and focusing on his characters at the onset, what happens next means more. If "Backcountry" was a relatively plausible survival thriller, his sophomore effort is more supernaturally inclined, a cursed tale of malevolent black magic brought to life. Where the narrative ends up isn't half as satisfying as the build-up, but the film works on the whole based on MacDonald's controlled craftsmanship and the empathetic central performances of Nicole Muñoz (2010's "Tooth Fairy") and Laurie Holden (2014's "Dumb and Dumber To").

A few years after the death of their father and husband, 16-year-old Leah (Nicole Muñoz) and her mom, Mrs. Reyes (Laurie Holden), continue to struggle moving forward. Whereas Leah has embraced the occult and surrounded herself with like-minded friends at school, an aggrieved Mrs. Reyes is stuck in a home that, as she describes to her daughter, "feels like your father's funeral, every fucking day." In an attempt at a fresh start, they move an hour away to a country cottage in the woods. Leah, however, is none too happy about this change. Overcome with anger following a big blow-out argument, she takes to the forest and calls upon a demonic force known as Pyewacket to send her mom to her grave. It's a spell she immediately lives to regret when it becomes clear something evil really has been unleashed.

In its most affecting moments, "Pyewacket" recalls the encroaching dread of 2015's "It Follows." Forced to deal with the effects of her own recklessness but not about to quit fighting to reverse the curse and save her mother, Leah is a flawed but proactive heroine. As prickly as her relationship with her mom can be, there is undeniable love between them; it's a complicated portrait of a mother-daughter bond not entirely unlike the one found between Laurie Metcalf and Saoirse Ronan's characters in 2017's "Lady Bird." This is where comparisons to Greta Gerwig's Oscar-nominated coming-of-age drama end, as "Pyewacket" journeys toward a grimly harrowing second half concerned above all with mustering fear and paranoia. Lensed with eavesdropping atmosphere by Christian Bielz, the film creates suspense through prolonging the expectation of something terrible happening. The climax, unfortunately, underwhelms, with Leah's actions overtaken by script contrivances; to buy into what she does in these final moments, there needed to be a whole lot more reality-twisting buildup and an overarching belief she had no other choice. It's a disappointing but not ruinous conclusion to an otherwise riveting crystal ball of disquieting portent.

Read Dustin's Theatrical Review

Blu-ray Picture/Sound

"Pyewacket" haunts Blu-ray with a visually somber and rustic 1080p transfer. This is a film awash in autumnal overcast skies, but it has been classily photographed in a way which avoids feeling drab or dingy. Image clarity and stability are excellent, while detail excels in the scenes set in the woods, the rough bark on the trees and their barren limbs lifting skyward sharply captured. Black levels are strong, and skin tones appear largely accurate. Where this presentation gets a few points subtracted is in multiple instances of egregious banding (note, for example, the sequence where Leah attempts to barricade herself in her bedroom). Still, this is a pleasing high-def transfer. Two audio options are offered: 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio. The 5.1 track sounds fuller--more immersive, more complex in its use of surrounds, especially in its action-oriented interludes. Music, dialogue, and peripheral sounds are spot-on within the mix.

Blu-ray Features
  • Making-of Featurette (17:34, HD)
  • Theatrical Trailer (1:40, HD)
Bottom Line
"Pyewacket" is thick with foreboding while capturing an earnest, petulant, ultimately loving mother-daughter bond at its center. Writer-director Adam MacDonald is a talented filmmaker who has proven with "Backcountry" and now this solid follow-up a propensity for building and sustaining palpable tension. Scream Factory and IFC Midnight's Blu-ray looks and sounds quite good, and comes with a nice making-of featurette. For fans of slow-burn horror that gets under one's skin, "Pyewacket" certainly fits the bill. Recommended.

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© 2018 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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