Thursday, 28 October 2021


Hard Spell

Canada 2017
Directed by Adam MacDonald
Signature DVD Region 2

Warning: Some story set up spoilers.

Pyewacket is one of a few freebies I got given at FrightFest a few years ago. The name is one I associate with cats as it’s the famous name of a witch’s ‘familiar’ and so many TV and movie cats over the years (perhaps most famously in Bell, Book and Candle, reviewed here) have gone by that name. Here, the writer/director takes some ‘artistic licence’ with just who, or what, Pyewacket actually is (it’s a good name after all) and turns it into a dark spirit who will perform a task if summoned but... will exact a price for that task.

The film kinda works okay (although I have my reservations about it), not least because of the two very strong actresses who carry the majority of the story between them. We have Nicole Muñoz playing Leah and her mum played by Laurie Holden. The two of them have been finding it hard since the death of Leah’s dad a couple of years before and these two are not exactly bonding well. Then Leah’s mum decides they are moving house and, although Leah is able to go to the same school for a few months, this is perceived by her as uprooting her from all her friends and her potential romantic interest (played by Eric Osborne).

Leah seems to be a staunch, typically angst ridden teen goth and has a passion for writings on the occult. When her and her mother continue the disharmony in the new house, which incidentally is cut off from almost everywhere and is situated next to a very spooky forest, then she decides she doesn’t want her mother in her life anymore. So one night she goes into the woods and performs a complicated ritual from one of her books, to summon the spirit of Pyewacket to kill her mother. The rest of the movie is about spooky sounds, a dark ghostly shape, missing time (as Leah wakes up one morning in the forest) and various other ‘false starts’ as the audience waits for Pyewacket to show up and kill Leah’s mum. Meanwhile, of course, the two women have managed to put their differences aside and have finally begun to bond and become a loving, family unit again. Can Leah figure out how to reverse her spell, which she has now found out will also involve her own death at the hands of the summoned demon after the task has been fulfilled? Well I’m not going say but I will say that the way the movie ends is a little predictable, to be honest.

And, asides from the lack of surprises, the film maybe doesn’t have enough scope to play in the most satisfying way. That is to say, the concluding part of the movie is something I would have been expecting the film to do around a third to halfway through the thing and then go on to bring in some other plot twist or dramatic element... which it doesn’t do.

All that being said though... it does all the rest of it very well. The suspenseful and scary moments are executed competently and, because the characters were so well drawn by the leads and also because the director really seemed to know what he was doing with the supernaturally charged scenes, I was feeling genuinely uneasy during certain scenes and at no time did it really feel like it was dragging.

The creature is most effective when it’s just the sounds of footsteps coming from the attic just above Leah’s bedroom and the evil spirit’s final form is left to the imagination. Later forms such as a dark, ghostly silhouette are maybe not as potent although, the version which is briefly seen running about on all fours is quite creepy, it has to be said. It’s a shame more wasn’t made of this particular manifestation of the central demon.

The film looks pretty good too and the cinematography also helps invoke a nice atmosphere. This includes some of those POV shots where you assume the voyeuristic moving camera moments are meant to be a manifestation of Pyewacket, lurking unseen by anyone. This is all coupled with a nice ‘contemporary sound design’ style score by Lee Malia which really works and enhances the modern gothic flavour of the piece (and which I can’t get on CD... thanks for failing me again music companies).

Other than that, yeah, all in all I’d say that Pyewacket fails to deliver any real surprises and could have stood having a greatly expanded story line (although, I’m assuming this was very low budget so what the director accomplished here is pretty great) but what it does manage to pull off, it pulls off in style and it would make a great addition to an all nighter of similarly themed folk horrors, for sure. I think most horrorphiles would have a good time with it.

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