FILM REVIEW: THE CURSE OF AUDREY EARNSHAW serves up a compelling premise & setting but drags in the execution.


Writer/director Thomas Robert Lee serves up some scary atmosphere that seems to setup an intriguing premise worth exploring, but THE CURSE OF AUDREY EARNSHAW delivers a supernatural revenge horror that seems to lose focus in the execution.

A slow-burn supernaturally inspired horror film is usually one of my favorite genres to enjoy. From the methodical reveals that open up as one watches Roman Polanski’s 1968 horror Rosemary’s Baby, to the Old Testament levels of pain that lead to empowerment in Robert Eggers’ 2015 The Witch, there’s something to seeing a well-fleshed out character study reveal a dark simmering truth lying beneath the surface begging to be unearthed. A slow burn done right can make this reveal tantalizing while giving us a lot of rich characterization for a good actor to play with onscreen. However, when the film sets up a great premise and a compelling cast of characters and then doesn’t do much with them, it can be incredibly frustrating for a viewer and something of a letdown. That is the case to a large degree with THE CURSE OF AUDREY EARNSHAW, opening on VOD on October 2nd. The film sets up a unique premise that invites comparisons to THE WITCH and THE VILLAGE at the same time but then doesn’t really address the elements that the premise seems to promise.

THE CURSE OF AUDREY EARNSHAW is set in 1973, at a settlement for Irish settlers who split from the Church of England back in 1873. Their sect, something like Mennonites/Amish people, observe a chaste lifestyle with 19th-century dress and manner. However, in 1956, a great pestilence timed to an eclipse hit their settlement; with lands being made arid afterward and the farmers being unable to grow their crops. They feel as if their God has abandoned them and grow to resent Agatha Earnshaw (Catherine Walker), whose farm has only prospered in the meantime. Unbeknownst to the town, Agatha has a daughter she has raised since the eclipse, Audrey (Jessica Reynolds), whom Agatha keeps in hiding, telling her the town would exact its resentment and vengeance towards Agatha’s prosperity on her. Agatha is a witch and takes samples of Audrey’s blood and effects along with Audrey to their coven to gain prosperity in this time and place.

It’s here where having the film set in 1973 really tends to hurt it to some degree. Agatha is an outsider in the colony and it’s here that it makes you wonder why she would live in this patriarchal, dying society that seems to promise violence and hate towards her at every turn when she has options and a circle outside of it in the modern world. It’s especially more of an issue when the fact that the film is in the 70s doesn’t really make any difference to the plot and having made the film a pure period piece would have likely added more ambiance and dread. Indeed, most of the colony hate Agatha, even trying to rob her of provisions when she takes her goods out of town during a funeral for a small child named Liam. Liam’s father Colm (Jared Abrahamson) assaults Agatha, claiming she has uppity airs and beyond nerve passing by with her providence of rich produce during his child’s funeral. Here, Audrey takes affront with her mother’s way of dealing with the townsfolk and decides to take things into her own hands; exacting her revenge on various townsfolk who have wronged her and her family through curses and witchcraft. She curses Colm’s wife Bridget (Hannah Emily Anderson from USA’s The Purge) who finds herself pregnant with a complicated pregnancy after eating earth in the ground that Audrey has cursed. She curses Lochlan (Tom Carey) with another such misfortune for stealing her mother’s produce and his family dies from food poisoning. Another local, Bernard (Don McKellar) finds himself masturbating over her after seeing a glimpse of her and looking for release from his suffering in the town. Audrey resents being hidden and looks for empowerment by taking out this town of Christians seemingly shunned by God and her wrath knows little bounds.

THE CURSE OF AUDREY EARNSHAW becomes problematic here. Clearly, these people are already suffering in their Village-like existence trying to eek out a life. It would be one thing if Audrey would punish these people for wanting to leave; their rejection of their God being a rejection of its opposite. Instead, it largely comes across as picking on the weak and there isn’t a lot of suspense as to what will happen. Lee’s film feels a lot like Robert Eggers’ The Witch, except Audrey chooses to live deliciously largely off-frame and her character isn’t really developed all that much from hidden offspring, to coven member, to an all-powerful daughter of the devil. As a viewer, you want to know why these people turned to Satan and witchcraft, yet choose to live in a faux old-time Christian settlement. That never gets answered and it is frustrating, as is why the film puts itself out as a period piece from the 1970s. The film’s cinematography is very appealing, as is its’ lighting and production design. But the film’s bleak and relentlessly dreary vibe coupled with its desire to not serve any answers makes for a frustrating viewing experience. Anderson and Abrahamson’s arc as Colm and Bridget becomes the film’s most interesting plot thread, but even that gets derailed by a lack of transparency about what’s going on. When the film’s message is don’t mess with a witch, but the messing is weak people venting their frustration leading to genocide, it seems like you need more backstory to justify that.

THE CURSE OF AUDREY EARNSHAW is worth a view for some strong performances by Abrahamson and Anderson respectively, and some great production design and ambiance, but the film seems to promise a lot more and doesn’t really deliver on the premise which is really cool and largely ignores it altogether.

– 2 out of 5 stars