It’s no secret that with the rise in Killstar instagram witch #aesthetic and Urban Outfitters selling $29 bundles of sage and $42 quartz crystals that witchcraft and occultism is super hot right now. Everyone has a big boner raging for folk horror and all things involving goats, witches, witches riding goats, and saturated darkened shots of foreboding landscapes. Films like Robert Egger’s THE VVITCH, Oz Perkins’s THE BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER and GRETEL AND HANSEL have all told a spooky tale of the wild and often unhinged nature of female sexuality and power as it relates to witchcraft and the occult and THE CURSE OF AUDREY EARNSHAW very much tells the same tale. Occult-pop band Ghost has a line in one of their songs that I feel is relevant when examining these post modern folk horror darlings – “all witchcraft comes from carnal lust which is in women insatiable“.
An opening text crawl for THE CURSE OF AUDREY EARNSHAW tells of a group of Irish immigrants who broke away from modernity to live in “the old ways” (read vaguely Amish but with planes flying over to give you a vibe similar to THE VILLAGE by M. Night Shyamalan). We are then introduced to Catherine Walker (from an arguably much better occult film – A DARK SONG) who plays Agatha Earnshaw, your typical outcast witchy woman, whose prosperous farm exists on the fringes of the vaguely Amish looking village. The village appears to be set upon by some vague “troubles” – farms are not yielding crops, animals seem to be dying, and there is a general sense of paranoia and unease that permeates the pious villagers. Agatha’s seeming wealth and health are objects of both scorn and envy and the villagers set vexatious hate upon her, accusing her, of course, of being in league with the devil.
However, unlike many of the baseless Salem Witch-hysteria allegations, Agatha actually *is* in league with something nefarious – a member of a spooky unnamed cult that does spooky unnamed things in what appears to be someone’s uncle’s barn. Agatha carries with her a secret – mainly that she has a daughter that she has hidden from the villagers for a reason that is never really specified.
Her otherworldly beautiful (?) daughter Audrey, who is played by Jessica Reynolds, seems to be the only villager with access to Korean face masks and a Bonne Bell lipgloss, and is so “bewitching” that the simple act of looking upon her sets men to madness, murder and worse, which I guess is good enough reason to hide her away. As a compliant child, Audrey was accepting of playing hidden daughter, and now that she has entered into her own womanhood, she is less willing to engage in her mother’s charade. One day, as she and her mother make a trip through town (with Audrey hidden in a box of their horse drawn cart), Agatha is cursed out by Colm, a village man who has just lost his young son. Colm accuses Agatha of being somehow behind his misfortune and Agatha “takes” the abuse according to her daughter. Later on, Audrey, seemingly out of nowhere gets big mad and decides to go-a-cursin’and for some reason curses the ever loving shit out of Colm’s wife Bridget who is played by Hannah Emily Anderson. Anywho, shit gets fucky real quick and pretty soon the village is beset with even more spooky shit – dead animals, Bridget losing her got-damn mind, and turning up pregnant when she shouldn’t be.
Audrey is also then seen by a local villager who is so impressed with her cool lipgloss that he goes totally cuckoo-for-cocoa-puffs and then kills himself because she’s so hot and her hotness makes him feel empty inside.
Audrey’s rise to power however brutal and gorgeous, comes off as confusing rather than meaningful. When she’s enacting “revenge” for the one time someone yelled at her mother out of grief and anger, she comes off as an entitled child rather than a liberated woman. Come the end of the film, I found myself perplexed rather than empowered with the portrayal of Audrey.
Now – as the burning Wickerman tattoo that extends up my leg and onto my ass may tell you, I’m a big spooky witchy folk horror fan myself, but I didn’t find myself loving THE CURSE OF AUDREY EARNSHAW. The film is technically well made – Thomas Robert Lee skillfully creates beautiful and deeply unsettling shots of the “cursed” village, but it feels like so much of the actual plot held within those shots is missing or filled in afterwards. I’m not sure if this was a script issue, or just plain bad writing, or what it was, but THE CURSE OF AUDREY EARNSHAW just didn’t hit the mark for me. It reminded me of THE BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER which I also didn’t care for, and for the same reasons. I think I would have found more sympathy for Audrey if there had been more rising action with which to set her so ragefully against her neighbours. I would have also found her more sympathetic if she had just been straight up evil a la Damien in The Omen, and unfortunately I think THE CURSE OF AUDREY EARNSHAW wanted to *say something* beyond Audrey being straight up evil, and it unfortunately ended up a confusing mess of visuals that pulled punches right up until the last frame.
DIAG RATING 1/6 – beautifully shot but ultimately doomed folk horror that tries to simultaneously say that witchcraft is cool and that witchcraft is evil and ends up somewhere around a Silver RavenWolf book.
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