Any horror fan worth their salt knows that rituals and witchcraft are two things that you simply don’t fuck with. And yet, the entire modern-day teenage population of North America apparently just can’t seem to help themselves. The latest in this ongoing canon of adolescent stupidity hails from nearby Canada, and whilst its genre roots seem sturdy enough, the film itself really struggles to ever really get the blood pumping.
Pyewacket (pronounced – exactly as you’d expect – pie-whack-it) comes almost totally devoid of bells-and-whistles, choosing to deliver its classic teenage-trouble supernatural tale very much straight-up. Troubled girl and her recently widowed mother clash, girl wishes her mother was dead, girl performs bloody ritualistic ceremony in an attempt to kill mother, girl regrets it; fairly boiler-plate stuff. There’s no obvious signs of humour or hokeyness, no cackling broom-bound old ladies, and no real knowing nods to horror movies-past either (bar the occasional well-timed Evil Dead forest-crawl). Director Adam MacDonald plays this one dead serious, and about as close to real as low-budget genre-fare can really get. And I really wish he hadn’t.
If you’re planning on throwing witchcraft, demons, or anything even remotely supernatural for that matter, out into the real-world, sans silliness, you better be ready to scare the pants off of whoever’s watching. And for its sins, Pyewacket never really manages anything in that department. MacDonald showers the whole thing in mystery, building the tension-mounting sequences on nothing but shadows, loud noises and the occasional spot of faux Shining-esque trippiness, that almost always end in a fake-out. After three or four false builds, you kind of switch off, and the mood really dies out. Without scares you can’t have dread, and without dread, well, you don’t really have a horror movie.
Instead, Pyewacket ends up as a bit of a weirdly-edited character piece, or at the very most, a psychological drama. And to its credit, it manages a little more in this department than it does in horror. Nicole Muñoz’s lead Leah does eventually break through the bratty-teen stereotype she starts out as, and although she isn’t really left with much to do on the page, Muñoz gives it a good enough go anyway. Other characters suffer much more, her on-screen mother in particular (The Walking Dead’s Laurie Holden), but so much of this ends up coming down to MacDonald’s constant attempts to second-guess the audience (and at times, apparently himself too).
Neat sound design and the occasional visual flourish aside, Pyewacket really struggles to assert itself in the horror arena. Despite some half-formed, but well-meaning performances, its slow, dread-less and fairly stale dramatically, making it thoroughly difficult to care about. There’s definitely talent on the screen somewhere, but as a piece of genre filmmaking, this one takes itself much too seriously, and never fully manages to make a proper splash, or a splash of any kind really.