Set in an isolated settlement somewhere in North America, a community of faithful Irish families stays true to their old ways. It’s 1973, and ever since they’ve settled here about a hundred years ago, there hasn’t been a fruitful harvest and their livestock doesn’t live long enough to benefit from it. Except for one farm, belonging to Agatha Earnshaw, a woman who’s believed to have poisoned the ground with her witchcraft. Agatha (Catherine Walker – ‘Cursed‘) has been keeping her 17-year-old daughter Audrey (Jessica Reynolds) hidden from the community that abandoned them, but like the fearless rebellion she is, Audrey has a mind of her own. One that’ll keep the Earnshaw-legacy alive for centuries to come.

Clearly meant as a horror folk tale, Thomas Robert Lee‘s newest film isn’t necessarily scary. He excels in building a specific kind of atmosphere you only get to see in indie films, and with the use of a gritty colour palette, some effective split diopter shots and breathtaking Canadian scenery, it becomes a sure standout in this subgenre. ‘The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw‘ doesn’t just impress on a technical level, it’s the performances that embody the real fear and intensity the story visually supports. For those who are looking for a simple jump-scare-gore-fest, this won’t be your cup of tea. Those who are willing to sit through a slow burn and be taken on a journey – what are you waiting for?!

The director cautiously takes some creative decisions by focusing on two different families – one more in touch with the supernatural, the other faithful to their own god. The way these two stories slowly weave together and split up again is one of the highlights of the film, where from here on anything can happen and will happen. A ceremony where women are seen drinking a blend of blood, fingernails and skin shavings to connect with a higher being, is just the beginning of a series of twisted scenes. Self-mutilation, cattle-cradling, dirt-eating – nothing’s too crazy for Lee. What’s so wonderful about it all, is that it pushes the story further and isn’t just used for shock value.

Shot in the middle of Alberta’s wilderness, the film creates an isolated feeling. Everything seems handmade, from the houses to the costumes. I’m not an expert on linguistics, but I couldn’t fault anyone on their Irish-accented dialogue, even though not all of them are of Irish descent. Cinematographer Nick Thomas‘ virtuous compositions, which are specifically stunning in the indoor candlelit scenes, show how in touch he is with his craft. Bryan Buss and Thilo Schaller‘s score could’ve gone even bigger to elevate the sense of paranormal remoteness to unknown heights.

As mentioned before, the casting is strong. Reynolds’ debut as an on screen actor is a big success, as she showcases her range in playing an at first quite timid but adventurous girl, quickly growing into a spirited force to reckon with. It’s mainly the female cast that impresses, where Hannah Emily Anderson (‘The Purge‘-series) stands out as the mourning Bridget Dwyer, who gets put under a spell by Audrey as revenge for her husband hitting the witch’s mother.

Thomas Robert Lee discreetly builds tension in his horror folk story, rather going for atmosphere than having to rely too heavily on horrifying imagery. ‘The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw‘ feels a bit too limited in what it desires to be, but makes up for it with effective performances, plot and a clear vision. A menacingly ambiguous tale of revenge and community.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

‘The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw’ will screen in limited theatres from Friday, October 2, and will be available on VOD + Digital from Tuesday, October 6.

Review – ‘The Curse Of Audrey Earnshaw’

Reviewed online (screener provided by publicist), September 29, 2020. Rating: TBC. Running time: 94 min.

PRODUCTION: An A71 Entertainment release of a Gate 67, Telefilm Canada production. Producer: Gianna Isabella. Executive producers: Shaked Berenson, Susan Curran, Patrick Ewald, Thomas Robert Lee, James Mahoney, Bill Marks, George Mihalka, Marie-Claude Poulin, Divya Shahani.

CREW: Director/screenplay: Thomas Robert Lee. Editing: Ben Lee Allan. Cinematography: Nick Thomas. Score: Bryan Buss, Thilo Schaller.

WITH: Catherine Walker, Jared Abrahamson, Hannah Emily Anderson, Geraldine O’Rawe, Don McKellar, Sean McGinley, Jessica Reynolds.

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