Scream Factory and IFC Midnight's independent horror flick Pyewacket proves to be one of the few rare low-budget horror pictures that actually works. With the slow burn approach, this witchcraft tale starring Laurie Holden and Nicole Muñoz plays to genre conventions but smartly sidesteps predictable pitfalls. Good creepy entertainment. Scream Factory gives the Blu-ray release a good video transfer, solid and creepy audio, and a decent making-of featurette. Indie-horror fans should get a kick out of this one. Recommended.
Witchcraft, evil spirits, demonic presences -- unless they've kidnapped a child through the television or are conjured by some doofus from Michigan reading from a book bound in human flesh and inked in blood -- they don't usually get my blood pumping. It's partly due to my skeptical nature, I look at all things, all angles and draw conclusions in an ordered fashion. That said, I enjoy a good creepy possession movie when it's done right. 2018 has seen a few good ones with Hereditary hitting theatergoers and now Scream Factory and IFC Midnight brings us Pyewacket - a better than average witchcraft picture that makes smart use of its low budget to bring some genuine chills and a hell of an ending to the screen.
For Leah Reyes (Nicole Muñoz) and her mother (Laurie Holden), life has become stressful and eternally difficult ever since Leah's father died. Leah has found solace with her friend Janice (Chloe Rose), her boyfriend Aaron (Eric Osborne) and their shared casual interest in the occult while her mother has turned to an unending supply of wine. Desperate for a change, Leah's mother uproots them and moves them to a secluded house in the woods. Upset by the move and the isolation from her friends, Leah invokes the spirit of Pyewacket to curse her mother. When strange things start to happen and Leah and her mother repair their strained relationship, it may be too late to stop Pyewacket from exacting its dark desires.
One of the things I tend to lament when it comes to independent horror films is when they start to overstretch their abilities. If the budget isn't there and you can't pull something off cleanly, don't do it. A bad effect or slipshod execution can just ruin an otherwise effective and creepy low budget horror picture. Kudos to writer and director Adam MacDonald for smartly executing a shoestring horror film by sticking to the adage "it's not what you see, it's what you don't see that scares you." Excellent use of sound, lighting, shadows, setting and the film's slow burn pace keep the suspense building and the film never overreaches.
At the center of the film is a terrific turn from Nicole Muñoz as Leah. At first, I was worried she was going to be playing your stereotypical Hot Topic pseudo-goth angsty teen. Thankfully, the film sidesteps that particular characterization by grounding her interests in occult practices as part of a spiritual awakening in the wake of her father's death. You understand her strained relationship with her mother. And you can easily write off her invoking a demon spirit as a form of desperate acting out in order to get attention. Only this act has some pretty dark consequences.
Equally good in her own right is Laurie Holden as Leah's mother who has turned to alcohol to cope with her own loss. All of her actions are that of a desperate parent trying to take care of a child while also struggling to care for herself. Her own turns to extreme behaviors are perfectly understandable and relatable. While probably not a good idea to piss off a kid with an interest in the occult, you do sympathize with her need for a fresh start away from the world that reminds her of her dead husband.
I wouldn't go so far as to say that Pyewacket is the perfect horror film for everyone. It is a very slow burn. At 90-minutes it feels about 30-minutes longer than it is - but for me to good effect. The pacing keeps the suspense building and by taking the time to introduce the principal characters and their respective motivations, the creepy bits and scares have a stronger urgency to them. By the time things are wrapping up, you're fully invested in the ride. Those who like their movies to take their time should be very well rewarded as some misdirection and a couple great sequences in the middle keep you satiated until the bitter end.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Scream Factory and IFC Midnights bring Pyewacket to Blu-ray in a single disc set. Pressed onto a Region A BD-50 disc, the disc is housed in a standard sturdy Blu-ray case with identical slipcover artwork. There is also reversible alternate artwork if you want your case to feature something different. The disc loads to trailers for other Scream Factory and IFC Midnight releases before arriving at an animated main menu with traditional navigation options.
Pyewacket features a 1080p 2.40:1 transfer that sports the hallmarks of a low budget feature without looking cheap. The film isn't exactly pretty to look at with a subdued color palette and heavy shadowed lighting - but it's still effective and lends to the creepy mood of the film. Clarity is strong throughout with clothing, facial features, and the film's wooded setting. Close-ups and mid-shots look the best with establishing shots fluctuating a bit in the clarity department. Like I said, colors are a bit muted and monochromatic. Beyond some key placements of the color red and Leah's jean jacket, blues don't get a lot of play. Yellow is dominant for another reason I can't really go into without some spoilers. Black levels are spot on. There is a wonderfully creepy moment midway through the film where Leah and her friend go out into the woods in the middle of the night armed with only cellphone flashlights. It's a damn good creepy scene and the limited visibility really pulls it together. Free of any compression anomalies, this is a great looking transfer for a low budget venture.
Pyewacket enjoys two terrific audio mixes, a DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix as well as a DTS-HD MA 2.0 track. Considering the film's use of sound, the 5.1 mix is the strongest of the two. There is some great usage of atmosphere and side and rear channels that help give you a couple good jumps that just don't translate as effectively in stereo. The 2.0 track is perfectly good - especially if you're not set up for surround sound - but if you can it's best to rock out the 5.1 track. Both audio tracks feature great dialogue clarity, great sound effects spacing, and the film's score by Lee Malia helps maintain the mood without crushing out the other elements.
Pyewacket may not be a perfect horror film and it may prove to be a bit too slow for some, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. It doesn't put a new spin on the witchcraft genre but what it does it does very well. With some great performances, the film manages to pull a few surprises out of its hat including a hell of a gut-punch ending. Those who like their horror to be a slow burn should be pleased with this little indie gem. Scream Factory and IFC Midnight bring Pyewacket to Blu-ray in fine order featuring a great A/V presentation and a better than average making-of featurette. When you need something spooky on a cold rainy night, give Pyewacket a spin. Recommended.