Pyewacket. That’s not exactly the kind of horror title that instills much confidence into those who come across it. For a film that’s rooted in the occult and about a story of teenage angst that results in a family being torn apart, there had to be a better option on the table. Instead, and unfortunately for director Adam MacDonald, they went with Pyewacket. Although it’s derived from European folklore—a supernatural spirit that guided witches in their magic, to be exact—the film never bothers to explain any of what makes its strange title so… strange. In this one, a frustrated teenage girl awakens something in the woods when she naively performs an occult ritual to evoke a witch to kill her mother.
For me, the best part of Pyewacket was in the first act. We’re given a sense of who its protagonist is and the struggles she’s facing after losing her father. The relationship with her mother has since drifted apart, leaving not much behind other than the painful memories of her dad. That’s a helluva test for any relationship, but it also creates a window into the lives of these people we just barely met. What it also does, however, is give us a reason to buy into such a torn and tattered relationship. It’s a fantastic tool that MacDonald goes to work with because now it’s not a matter of if their relationship will break, but when. I always appreciated that subtle approach to character building—it tells us just enough to put the pieces together ourselves.
But as teenagers do, Leah decides that rather than dealing with her problems like a normal person, she is instead going to perform a ritual and a release Pyewacket into the world so that it can destroy what’s left of her life—again, typical teenager behavior. Although that is admittedly pretty ridiculous, it’s not even the part of the film that bothered me most. What really bugged me was just how easy it was for Leah to successfully pull off the ritual. I get it, it’s just a movie and this is all bullshit, but at least make the damn thing convincing. All she does is take a random book off of a shelf in her bedroom (and it looks like she bought it at Barns & Noble), walks out into the woods, says some shit, cuts her wrist, and that’s basically it. At least in Evil Dead, you had to read from the Necronomicon—a book bound in human flesh and inked in human blood—before you could summon soul-stealing demons.
Unfortunately, the entire second half of Pyewacket is just so middle-of-the-road that it completely undoes all of those fantastic layers to its characters that I mentioned earlier. What was once so convincing and heartbreaking, quickly becomes boring genre fare that’s not nearly as interesting (or scary) as it thinks it is. And just because a movie has one (maybe two if I’m being generous) solid scares, that doesn’t make everything that came before it any better. There was a decent amount of buzz surrounding this one and I’m struggling to see why—the final act is rushed, there’s no sustained tension or scares, and the story falls apart quicker than it took Leah to summon a murderous spirit in the woods.