Horrors unleashed by a reckless teen

Laurie Holden plays the mother of a rebellious teenage daughter in Pyewacket.
Laurie Holden plays the mother of a rebellious teenage daughter in Pyewacket.PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION

A high schooler reaps the consequences of dealing with her mother using the occult

REVIEW / HORROR

PYEWACKET (NC16)

86 minutes/ Now showing/ 4 stars

The story: High schooler Leah (Nicole Munoz) and her mother, Mrs Reyes (Laurie Holden), have a fraught relationship. The teen and her group of friends find comfort in the occult and one day, in a fit of anger, Leah storms into the woods to perform a death ritual, summoning the demon of the film's title and asking it to rid her of her mother. She and her friends ask themselves: Is any of what they believe in real or is it just a lifestyle?

Teen rebellion and the imagery of satanism are often associated.

It is debatable if youths go beyond the aesthetics of the pentagram T-shirts and Norwegian black metal, but this movie assumes that for one group at least, the affection for all things Satanic goes deeper than stuff you can buy at the mall.

Canadian actor-turned-director Adam MacDonald, working off a script he wrote himself, has turned in a strong, character-driven work of horror.

The engine here is the relationship between Leah (Munoz) and her mother (Holden, best remembered for her role in another work of horror, television's ongoing The Walking Dead).

It has nothing of the depth and complexity of, say, Lady Bird (2017), but it does the job of making the horror properly horrific: These are fully rounded characters the audience cares about when bad things happen to them.

The screenplay cleverly plays with horror tropes while skirting cheap irony or inside jokes. For example, the story takes the subject of the occult seriously, while at the same time casting just the right amount of doubt as to the truth of Satanic beliefs.

Because it never takes the belief in the occult for granted, it earns the right to its final act scares.

Too bad then that the climax goes on for too long and leans too heavily on heroic rescues and slasher-movie cliches.

Kids play with forces they do not understand and reap the consequences.

It is a set-up as old as time, but this chilling, frequently terrifying work of horror manages to find fresh nightmare fuel in dark woods and incantations muttered in the moonlight.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 29, 2018, with the headline 'Horrors unleashed by a reckless teen'. Print Edition | Subscribe