A frustrated girl attempts an occult ritual in order to kill her mother, but awakens something sinister in the woods instead, in the latest from director Adam MacDonald (Backcountry).
In a strong year for horror films in Canada — this year's Festival slate also includes Robin Aubert's vérité zombie film Les Affamés and Seth Smith's atmospheric mystery The Crescent — director Adam MacDonald adds his own unique foray into the genre with the creepy, visceral Pyewacket.
MacDonald (whose feature debut, Backcountry, played TIFF '14) follows teenaged Leah (Nicole Muñoz, in a fearless turn), who spends her free time dabbling in black magic and Satanism with her clique of friends. It's one way of avoiding a disastrous home life. Her mother (Laurie Holden) is falling part, locked in an unsuccessful battle with booze and depression, and lashing out in every direction. It doesn't help that adolescence isn't exactly an age known for hormonal equilibrium, or that Leah has inherited the matrilineal angst. When her mother abruptly moves them to a cabin in the countryside to escape her demons, an enraged Leah invites her own: she conjures the vindictive and unpredictable demon of the title. As things unravel precipitously, MacDonald and crew keep us guessing as to how much we can trust, filtering everything through Leah's not-exactly-reliable perspective.
In addition to a fine cast led by Muñoz, Holden, and Chloe Rose (as Leah's one true confidante Janice), MacDonald's chief collaborator is cinematographer Christian Bielz. Oscillating between tight close-up and medium shot, MacDonald and Bielz create a memorable look that suggests confusion, terror, madness, and nauseating claustrophobia (even outdoors in the middle of a forest). The genre chops MacDonald showed in Backcountry are even more evident in the smart and genuinely scary Pyewacket, a welcome addition to both his oeuvre and Canada's tradition of sharp, economical horror.