At some point in their adolescence, every teenager has wished their parents were dead. Rather than summon a demon straight from Hell however most of us just retreated to our rooms for a weep and a wank, slamming the door behind us and emerging only once our raging hormones had calmed down a bit. Unfortunately, the teen protagonist of writer/director Adam McDonald’s second feature Pyewacket chooses the road less travelled, her dabbling in the Dark Arts leading to madness and death.

Still mourning the death of her father, teenage Goth girl Leah (Nicole Muñoz) just wants to hang out with her equally gloomy friends engaging in a little recreational shoe-gazing, attending book signings and smoking a little dope in the playground afterwards, far away from the stifling presence of her grief-stricken mother (Laurie Holden).

When Mom decides to make a clean break from the past, sell the house and drag her daughter off to live in the woods an hour upstate from her friends and school, it’s the last straw for Leah who gives Sabrina the Teenage Witch a run for her money, hitting the occult spell books and summoning the titular demon to punish her mother.

But when things start to go bump in the night, Leah starts to regret her hasty decision. Plagued by visions and assailed by the demonic Pyewacket, her sanity disintegrating into hysteria, is it too late for Leah to banish the demon back to Hell and save her mother?

Eschewing the expected graphic gore and mechanical jump scares (at least until it’s increasingly shrill last half hour…) in favour of a more measured, subtle, growing dread, the demons that plague McDonald’s admirably restrained Pyewacket aren’t of the supernatural variety but rather rage, grief and loss, both Leah and her mother still haunted by the death of the father and husband they’ve both lost. It’s a rich and intriguing premise and at times the performances by Holden and Muñoz hint at the film that might have been.

As the troubled teen on the cusp of womanhood at the film’s heart, Defiance’s Nicole Muñoz is a sympathetic and affecting protagonist, bringing some gravity to Leah’s essentially one-dimensional stroppy teenager, the understated, wordless romance between her and love interest Eric Osborne one of the best things about the film, and Muñoz shares an effective chemistry with The Walking Dead veteran Holden who is by turns shrewish and understanding as the mourning mother who just wants to move on with her life. There’s good support too from Chloe Rose as Leah’s sassy BFF Janice but ultimately, no matter how good the performances or how slow the burn is, McDonald’s Pyewacket is rather inert and coy, every beat telegraphed and predictable even down to it’s rushed, but admittedly harrowing, finale.

Pyewacket isn’t a bad film, but it is forgettable. Don’t worry if you experience déjà vu while watching it, you have seen it before.

Movie Review: Pyewacket
2.5Overall Score
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