The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw is atmospheric as possible for a film on such a small budget. Writer/Director Thomas Robert Lee has shown that he is a filmmaker to watch and Jessica Reynolds. An actress who will be on the rise very soon.
Audrey (Jessica Reynolds), an enigmatic young woman, and her mother Agatha (Catherine Walker) live secretly as occultists on the outskirts of a remote Protestant village. As the community is besieged by a pestilence of unknown origin the children, fields, and livestock begin to die. Yet the Earnshaw farm remains strangely unaffected. As mass hysteria sets in the village, the townsfolk commence accusations against Audrey and Agatha of witchcraft.
In a smart twist on the clichéd story of innocent women being blamed for witchcraft solely because their crops and livestock continue to live when everyone else’s dies. We see in fact that our protagonists are witches and the sole reason for their crops living is because they dare not say. We get to witness our witches’ take a bit of control on the situation when needed and be the ones on the offensive under the noses of the village.
The battle of faiths continues throughout the film with villagers sensing that Agatha’s crops and animals still living is now beyond suspicious, they accuse, but not act. It is this action that stops Agatha from wanting to help the rest of the village. She could help them with ease, but they support a different religion, thus she refuses. It is a sombre tale that Lee conveys here, that if respect was given to Agatha and by connection Audrey, then perhaps she would offer help. But, as they do the opposite, she has no reason to help. Not that she would want to anyway as she has been causing the difficulties. She is also making sure her daughter lives and is safe from them.
Wonderfully Lee does not shy away from the grim visuals, by allowing us to see characters dead, left for possible days to decompose. It is harrowing visuals, but ones that assist with making sure the film has your full attention. Wisely however he does not keep pushing these aspects into the audience’s faces and reigns it in a tad, or in the case of the farmer killing his animals, pulls back to allow us to see what has happened. It is small touches like this that allow for the film to keep you invested, too much of either would spell disaster for the film, so his decisions to properly balance his gore.
What powers The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw is undoubtedly the cast. The entire ensemble shines bright here, but none more so that our two leads Jessica Reynolds and Catherine Walker. Reynolds announces herself as a future star with this stunning performance. She allows for Audrey’s frustrations of being kept away from everyone and everything rise and allows the confliction in Audrey to portray perfectly on her face in through her physicality. This is an assured performance from the young actress. Equally, Walker can balance out Reynolds Audrey with a character that is firm but fair to her daughter. Playing a paranoid character can be a thankless task, yet Walker can carry this aspect very well.
Lee’s script is where the film falters slightly sadly as there are clear lulls in the 93-minute feature. The most glaring issue is why the film is set in 1973 North America when all of the characters are living this “virtuous” life, yet when animals, land and importantly children are dying why is no one seeking out assistance? The belief that their faith will lead them to safety is a tad nonsensical when all the children have died in your village. There is only so much death that a village can take and to merely rely on their faith to keep them right and ultimately this strains the story.
Lee’s strength is evident in his direction, he can pace the film so well, by easing the audience into this world and letting villagers have short interactions with Audrey we allow the mystery to build up, even if we know what Agatha and Audrey are. There is still a mystery to Audrey. As an audience, we want to see how this plays out.
Lee and his cinematographer Nick Thomas are excellent in their portrayal of life here. The film is soaked in coldness, making everything in this small village seem even harsher and grimmer than possible. Natural light is our friend here it is utilised well throughout to create that authentic atmosphere of a technology less society. There are obvious comparisons to The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw, but I feel it advances on those thoughts and allows us to see the next step in the empowerment of these women.
The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw is a compelling folk horror that is driven by the excellent performances of its leads in Thomas Robert Lee’s sophomore picture.
Horror | USA, 2020 | 18 | Digital release available now| Epic Pictures | Dir. Thomas Robert Lee | Jessica Reynolds, Catherine Walker, Jared Abrahamson