Being a big fan of Adam MacDonald’s 2015 survivalist film Backcountry, it was no surprise that his latest movie PYEWACKET, which houses an occult premise (not to mention having the same executive producers as The VVitch) would attract my attention. It is no secret that I love a good film surrounding itself in satanism and ritualistic folklore, So I was thrilled at the chance to check this movie out and see what it had to offer.
Written and directed by Adam MacDonald, PYEWACKET delves into numerous themes surrounding loss, fear, and regrettable mistakes bred by anger. With the loss of her father being too much to bear, teenage Leah (Nicole Muñoz) and her mother (Laurie Holden) move up north for a fresh start. Out of frustration with her mother, along with these new life changes, Leah becomes angry and summons a spirit in the woods set out to murder her mother. Leah soon realizes that consequences are attached to all of her actions, and to be careful of what you wish for.
This is a pretty unnerving film, with foundations based upon psychological fear. Writer/director MacDonald carefully builds the tension through the slowly growing distress within Leah. We as the audience see everything through Leah’s perspective, which makes us connected to the character. The arrival of the spirit is subtle, but apparent, leading you to wonder what will happen next. Slow growing tension is always a smart approach to any thriller, as the fear we’re experiencing for the character (and as a viewer) becomes more naturalistic. You really do feel this gut-wrenching and sickening sense of worry for the mother, and what the upcoming events will entail. MacDonald portrays these feelings well through looming dread and heightened sound design - the eerie swaying sound produced by the trees alone are enough to set you on edge.
For those of you who don’t know what a Pyewacket is, you’re not alone- there is little to no information or mythology surrounding this spirit, or what it even is. But most sources point to it being some kind of a familiar; a demon or spirit that takes different forms (people, animals, things), all while in compliance with a witch. I very much like this theme, as it fits well with subliminal witch and animal imagery throughout the film. While her mother is applying for a job at a local craft store, Leah comes across numerous witch-themed products, greeting cards, and decorations, which the camera sternly focuses on. There is also a heavy owl motif, as Leah’s mother collects owl-themed trinkets and knickknacks, and puts them throughout the house and inside of her car. This could play on the idea of the Pyewacket as a familiar, as owls have been tied to witchcraft in early folklore and are constantly and always aware and watching.
If you’re in the market for an occult-themed film that delivers the goods in all departments, then PYEWACKET is for you. It feels believable and tense through great acting and the crew’s use of the natural elements around them to create a spooky atmosphere rooted in witchcraft and ancient folklore. The dark premise of this film will surely keep your attention hooked and will not disappoint in the effects department. And I’m still convinced that the black goat on the “Horny 4 You” greeting card was supposed to be Black Phillip. Check out PYEWACKET when it arrives in select theaters, VOD and digital platforms in the U.S. on March 23, 2018 from IFC Midnight.