Leah (Nicole Muñoz) is your typical gothic teenager. Though mocked by the popular crowd, she has a small clique of friends who share similar beliefs as her. But at home ,we see not everything is normal in her life. Her mother (Laurie Holden) is a recent widower and, not handling the grief very well, Mrs. Reyes often hides in her bedroom, crying.
At a book signing, Leah meets Rowan Dove (James McGowan), who's promoting his book on the occult. Leah tells Rowan she wishes he would have gone deeper into the subject. He notices she has another book, one on rituals, with her. He warns her about it.
When Leah returns home, her world is turned upside down. Her mother informs her that she can no longer live in their house and that they are moving an hour away. This news is devastating to Leah and she breaks down, ultimately causing their already shaky relationship to worsen. It soon turns into a full-blown fight when Mrs. Reyes tells Leah how much it hurts her to see her deceased husband every time she looks at her. She even goes as far to say she wishes she could rip Leah's face away. Leah won't stand for it, so she does the only thing a goth, teenage occultist can do - she heads into the woods to perform a ritual to call on the Pyewacket, to kill her mother.
Pyewacket seamlessly combines two different types of films. The first half shows how mother and daughter both handle grief differently. Leah buries herself in her friends and the occult. Mrs. Reyes, however, wants to leave the house that she shared with her husband because it has too many memories in it. She wants a new start.
The second half of the film builds upon Leah's hatred. All of us have said at one time or another that we hate our parents, it is a natural part of being a teenager. Many of us have probably wished they were dead in the heat of the moment. Leah performs this ritual in the throes of this angered passion. The following morning she finds the front door open and dirt inside the house. It is from this point that she starts to feel guilty, especially after the kindness her mother showed her the previous night. To complete the ritual, Leah slit her wrist. She cannot get the bleeding to stop and her mother helps, not pushing too hard to ask what happened. This guilt causes Leah to see signs around her, like a birthday card warning her to ‘Be careful what you wish for, it may come true’. It is things like this and noises she starts to hear in her attic that cause her to descend into madness.
The only way these emotions work though, are through performances given by the actresses, particularly Muñoz. She has been in a litany of TV movies and shows. As to the practical special effects, there weren’t a lot, but the slitting of her wrist during the ritual was incredibly realistic. I can’t stand the sight of blood and watching that scene made my hands and feet go numb. There is true despair in Muñoz's performance as the world changes around her and she begins to question reality. These tense scenes are paired with an ominous scores that brings the anxiety and fears of our protagonists to life.
And, not to be outdone is Laurie Holden. She has shown what she can do in The Mist, Silent Hill and The Walking Dead but she is a powerhouse of emotions in Pyewacket. I had hate for her when she was cruel to Leah, but then felt bad when she sympathetically cared for her daughter. It takes a great performance to go from one end of the spectrum to the other in a ten minute span and Holden deserves all praise she's been given.
Pyewacket is a film I’d highly recommend seeing, especially if you enjoy a slow-burn that delivers. It's a relatable tale of grief and fitting in. The performances are worth a viewing alone and seeing a young actress like Muñoz in a role like this is great