Be careful what you wish for in the forest at twilight, black silhouettes of trees against the fading sky, whispered invocations brushing over the fallen leaves, a promise sealed in blood and milk and hair and knotted wool to a Pyewacket, a familiar spirit which hears and may answer the call of a witch though possesses its own will; “I invite you to come.”
It’s not been easy for high school student Leah Reyes (Defiance‘s Nicole Muñoz) since the death of her father, her mother crying behind her bedroom door, unable to articulate or share her feelings, acting as though she is the only one who has suffered through the loss, almost blind to her daughter’s pain.
Instead, Leah has found some measure of company if not comfort in her few friends at school; the metalheads don’t fit and aren’t popular and sometimes it hurts, but they know who they are and make no pretence. They stick together, hanging out after hours and drinking wine straight from the bottle and reading occult novels and attending book signings, but all that is to change.
Her mother no longer able to cope with living in the house where the family shared a life together, she announces without warning or consultation that she and Leah are moving up north at the end of the month, that she will work from home and Leah will have to change schools.
Understandably, despite the beautiful rural house they will move into, Leah is devastated and furious with her mother, and she takes her books into the woods and in a moment of foolish, childish, impulsive anger, she follows the words and the rituals and calls forth a spirit to enact her rage upon the one who has wronged her.
Written and directed by Backcountry‘s Adam MacDonald and first screened at the Toronto International Film Festival, the European premiere of Pyewacket took place at Glasgow Film Festival’s FrightFest strand on the morning of Saturday 3rd March preceded by a video message from MacDonald who explained he had first heard the term in William Friedkin’s 1990 dendrophiliac horror The Guardian.
Driven by the brittle relationship between Leah and her mother, The X-Files and The Walking Dead‘s Laurie Holden, there is so much unsaid between them that in the end only their mutual resentment is conveyed, Leah’s actions understandable when undertaken in a moment of hurt as swiftly evaporated to regret.
Despite sometimes trying, her mother simply doesn’t know how to reach out through her own grief to her daughter and ends up being a lousy mother, blaming her for resembling her father and calling her friends losers, but despite the power of the performances the dialogue often feels functional, setting up the next plot point rather than genuine conversation between family, broken though they are.
Presumably depicted as seen through the eyes of her daughter, the normally brilliant Holden is constrained by an underdeveloped character, the impression given that they have never spoken about their shared loss, making no attempt to understand Leah or her friends, never inviting them over to the house to make a weekend of it despite obviously having plenty of space indoors and out; when Leah springs the surly Janice (Hellions‘ Chloe Rose) on mom it feels like entrapment.
Leah surprisingly adept in her first summoning, rather than a subversion of mundane domesticity Pyewacket feels oddly like an overly zealous warning from conservative America against heavy metal music and the dangers of dabbling with the occult and the dangers it presents to young minds and parents which would be approved and endorsed by Focus on the Family: remember, witchcraft is bad, okay kids?
Pyewacket is available in the UK on digital download from 16th April and on DVD from 23rd April from Signature Entertainment