- Laurie Holden as Mrs. Reyes
- Nicole Muñoz as Leah
- Chloe Rose as Janice
- Eric Osborne as Aaron
- James McGowan as Rowan Dove
- Bianca Melchior as Pyewacket
Mothers and daughters can have fraught relationships, and Leah (Nicole Muñoz) and her mother (Laurie Holden) are no exception. Her father has recently passed away and neither of them are dealing with it healthily. Leah has started getting into the Occult, her bedroom is full of books and moody posters, and although it at first seems like a morbid teen rebellion – and quite understandable – after an epic fight with her mum, Leah angrily storms into the woods and starts slicing into her arm, trying to summon ‘Pyewacket’ to rid her of her mother. Bad move, Leah. At first nothing happens, but then odd occurrences start to mount up. Was her ritual successful, or has she really gone off the deep end?
Pyewacket (it’s fun to type!) fully gets that ‘nothing’ is usually scarier and wrings every bit of tension out of that. It’s closer to Paranormal Activity than the more overt Insidious, using shadow and suggestion to creep us out. The camera makes us very intimate with Leah too; we’re often pressed up uncomfortably near to her face, watching her reactions, the snap of her emotions, sucked right into her point of view. Leah seems to feel trapped in the repetitive routine of School, drinking with friends and moping at home, whilst being driven, sulking next to her mother. It’s clear that she’s still very much a child and her efforts to kick her way out of that role sends her down a darker and darker path.
I found Pyewacket fascinating and sad, and can highly recommend it for some deeply uneasy, mostly very subtle, horror. Like Hereditary on a sliver of the budget. Pyewacket requires applying a little empathy – but then most good horror, the kind that stays with you, does. If demons really exist, then please don’t mess with them. Their deals rarely turn out the way you hope. Just steal your mum’s credit card instead.
WARNING MASSIVE Spoilers in the section below that make more sense after you’ve watched it:
So was there ever a demon, or is it more likely that Leah went off the deep end and killed her mother due to an emerging mental illness, like a temporary dissociative episode? What is it with poor Laurie Holden and being burned to death? As horrific as it as, the Silent Hill memories took me out of the moment. Only a little bit though, the scene is still mentally scarring. This film won’t do goth teenagers any favours, by the way.
I appreciated that they made the confident blonde friend be the one to freak out after staying the night, and what she saw is NEVER shown or even hinted. It could even be something Leah herself did to her friend. We will never know. The terror in the friend’s reaction is smartly brought home and suggests that SOMETHING very wrong is happening to Leah. The demon, if that’s what it is, if Leah is actually sane, has kept up its end of the deal, just not in the way she ever expected. Because that’s what they do. The girl needs to see more horror, or read a folk tale or two. Someone show her Faust, please. They reference Crime and Punishment, I think, brandishing the book once or twice. Oh, and I think the reason she doesn’t do as the occult author tells her and reverse the ritual seems to be mainly that she already found her mother’s body in the woods, and was now being hunted. She was, basically, just too late to fix things, if they could be fixed at all.
- Subtle and creepy
- Laurie Holden plays both terrifyingly unstable and loving, kind versions of Leah’s mother really well.
- Realistically sets up Leah’s mental state
- Ambiguous existence of the demon – though what scared her friend?!
- The demon’s eventual appearance. Oh boy. A little goes a long way. There’s a very subtle moment in the woods right after the ritual which I found creepiest of all.
- Maybe too subtle and not enough creepy. For some. Have patience…
- Leah’s desire to kill her mum through the occult is a very good reason to hate her, even if she soon realises it seems to be coming true, that she doesn’t really want her mum dead, and rather slowly takes steps to fix thing. She’s an overwrought teenager. And, OK, a bit of an idiot.
- The demon might not exist, which is a cop-out, though it’s my personal preference that it definitely does. In all likelihood the ritual just set off a chain of insanity in Leah. But it’s more evil if the demon manipulated her right into making that awful final decision.
- People might unfairly compare this to Hereditary. The similarities are there. This is like its grungier, cheaper cousin.