[Fantasia Digital 2020 Review] THE CURSE OF AUDREY EARNSHAW
Courtesy of Fantasia International Film Festival
Folk horror has experienced a public resurgence in recent years.  From Robert Eggers’ The VVitch to William McGregor’s Gwen to Osgood Perkins’ Gretel & Hansel, there is something that continues to captivate creators to slip into this, generally, female-centric subgenre. Now director Thomas Robert Lee’s sophomore effort, THE CURSE OF AUDREY EARNSHAW, enters the ranks. While not a film without its flaws, the film is a haunting coming-of-age tale filled with strong performances. And, by the film’s end, it will have you pondering what it means to leave behind a legacy.

THE CURSE OF AUDREY EARNSHAW is written and directed by Thomas Robert Lee. It stars newcomer Jessica Reynolds, Catherine Walker, Jared Abrahamson, and Don McKellar. In the film, we meet the young Audrey Earnshaw (Jessica Reynolds) and her mother, Agatha Earnshaw (Catherine Walker), who live on the outskirts of an isolated Protestant village. Agatha has kept the knowledge of her daughter a secret from the community. With knowledge of her daughter’s birth, tensions would heighten further between the Earnshaws and the struggling community. However, Audrey is starting to clash against her mother’s tightened grasp. And, after a villager learns of Audrey’s existence, it is only a matter of time before tensions bubble over, and the young woman makes her mark on the rapidly deteriorating community.

THE CURSE OF AUDREY EARNSHAW immediately launches you into its world with its beautiful imagery. Cinematographer Nick Thomas takes us through sweeping visual landscapes, immediately letting the audience know of the village’s isolation and apparent decline. The colors are muted, progressively indicating the lack of vitality that has taken root in the village. This serves as a startling contrast when we come upon the young Audrey Earnshaw. With her unblemished skin and startling red lips, her visual appearance indicates the coming of something new. Something more potent and vital than anything this village is actively prepared for.

While the visuals themselves tell a story in their own right, the narrative itself lends itself to increasing the mystery and mystique of this folklore-heavy piece. Through the utilization of different chapters, we get to see the evolution of Audrey. Each chapter marks a turning point for the young woman, with newcomer Jessica Reynolds capturing each nuance effortlessly. While we are left more questions than answers by THE CURSE OF AUDREY EARNSHAW‘s end, part of the fun is seeing how Audrey’s presence and actions impact all around her.  As Agatha progressively starts to fear her own daughter, as the villagers slowly start to lose their collective minds, the young woman’s untapped power is indicative of the potential the next generation can bring. Whether this is helpful or harmful is another story entirely.

One cannot discuss THE CURSE OF AUDREY EARNSHAW without mentioning the standout performances from its cast. Jessica Reynolds is a standout as Audrey, with her performance highlighting the strength of her future. Catherine Walker’s performance is, as always, on point, with her portrayal of the heavily conflicted Agatha providing a contrast to the more straightforward Audrey. The performance and the complicated relationship developed between the two establish necessary tension that intensifies as soon as the villagers discover Audrey’s existence. Jared Abrahamson’s performance as Colm is subtle in its complexity. Colm is a man stricken by the loss of his son, but is a man that must push forward to keep his homestead moving. As his wife becomes further afflicted (and realizes something is wrong), Abrahamson’s handling of Colm’s reaction is both relatable and telling of the man’s character. By the film’s end, due in part to the performances mentioned, it is difficult to determine who is in the right.

THE CURSE OF AUDREY EARNSHAW will be compared to a handful of films out there, but the immediate comparison will be to The VVitch. The elements of a young woman coming into her own power, a patriarchal religious influence being overturned in an isolated environment are familiar. However, the concept of legacy, what it means to leave something behind rings strong. As soon as this concept is introduced to Audrey, the threads start to weave together. All becomes clear in the end what kind of legacy the young woman is leaving behind. And legacy, in the end, is what will set this latest addition to the folk horror genre apart from its predecessors.

THE CURSE OF AUDREY EARNSHAW had its world premiere at the digital edition of Fantasia International Film Festival on August 22, 2020.

Sarah Musnicky
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