Fresh for October’s spooky movie season, Thomas Robert Lee’s The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw is an eerie period-piece horror film about a witch and her daughter’s unnerving control over the fate and sanity of a nearby rural village. Effectively atmospheric and compellingly acted, The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw seems to strive to ride the coattails of Robert Egger’s magnum opus The Witch, though it evidently falls short of that mark.
The film stars Jessica Reynolds (who eerily resembles The Witch’s Anya Taylor-Joy) as Audrey Earnshaw, the magically-powerful daughter of Agatha Earnshaw (Catherine Walker), who is also a witch. After a violent encounter with local farmer Colm Dwyer (Jared Abrahamson), Audrey vows revenge, and curses Colm’s family and the local townspeople.
While sufficiently atmospheric, The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw never takes advantage of the gorgeous environments the film is set in. Whereas the environment in The Witch constituted an overwhelming phenomenon, at-once terrifying and mysterious, here it is something simply to be looked – a background feature. Indeed, much of the horror here takes places exclusively in sequences where characters, presumably under Audrey’s influence, take their own lives and the lives of their family.
While clearly inspired by The Witch (hence these perhaps unfair comparisons), Thomas Robert Lee’s film takes few cues from the former’s sense of despair and causal ambiguity. We always know here who is causing the terror, and as such we are not shocked or terrified. As well, the precise nature of Audrey’s power, her backstory, and the curse she inflicts on the town, are given little narrative context (though we are informed that her birth was Messianic in nature). It is strange that such a film would elide such information, given that it is more driven by narrative than The Witch, with the latter’s emphasis on aurality, sensation, and carnality.
That said, The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw is a serviceable film about witchcraft buoyed some of the best performances of the year (Don McKellar, in particular, deserves special recognition here). Though it does not take advantage of its obvious potential, the film still delivers enough shocking deaths, chilling sequences, and frightening moments to satisfy horror fans this season.
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Mark Barber: @WorstCinephile