In a secluded community, one woman has kept her daughter a secret for 17 years. In that time, the woman’s farm has been the only successful one, making the other villagers think she practices witchcraft. When the daughter witnesses a villager mistreat her mother, she decides that she’s done hiding.
Bringing a bit of witchcraft to Fantasia International Film Festival is The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw. This is the sophomore feature of Canadian writer and director Thomas Robert Lee (Empyrean). The film takes place in 1973, but the characters we follow live their lives as if it’s 1873. This remote Irish community choses to forego modern advancements to live a simpler life. Unfortunately for most of the villagers, the 17 years after a strange eclipse has left them with almost no crops. Except one woman, Agatha, who lives further away from the village on her own always has a great harvest.
It’s immediately clear there is a lot of tension between Agatha and the rest of the village. They are not only envious of her harvest, but they assume she has been successful because of witchcraft. Tensions only rise as Agatha has to hide her daughter, Audrey, for 17 years. It generates a constant sense of danger and a fear of the unknown. Why does Agatha hide Audrey? What would happen if the town knew about her? The moment Audrey decides she isn’t going to hide anymore, the village slowly descends into madness and bloodshed.
For the most part, The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw is a mystical, compelling film. I believe the one issue the plot continually bumps into is time. The most obvious issue with time is that the film takes place in 1973. While this community seems to be modeled after the Amish, as they refuse modern advances in technology and medicine, it doesn’t necessarily seem important to the plot. There are only a few minor references to the time period after it is established in the beginning. These references are so fleeting it doesn’t add to the film, although it doesn’t detract either. There is also a much larger passage of time in the course of the film than there appears to be. From the time Audrey decides she has had enough to the end of the film, it only seems to be a few days. Yet one character at one point mentions it has been weeks. It’s a small detail, but Audrey’s wrath seems so quick until the many weeks are mentioned, effectively slowing that wrath to a crawl.
The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw has an array of fantastic performances from start to finish. Making her feature-film debut is Jessica Reynolds (My Left Nut) as Audrey. From the moment we meet Audrey, it’s apparent that she isn’t content with her life hidden in the shadows and letting people walk all over her mother. Reynolds has a great ethereal presence that she can quickly turn sinister that works perfectly for the role. Another outstanding performance comes from Jared Abrahamson (American Animals, Fear the Walking Dead) as Colm. When we first meet Colm, he has just lost his son and he lashes out at Agatha. Yet, while our fist impression of Colm is negative, Abrahamson does a great job of bringing depth to the character and showing the good heart underneath the rough exterior.
Everything from the production design to the cinematography is stunning. The production design team and the costume design team behind The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw expertly transport the audience to a different time. The homesteads of the small village are gorgeous. The costumes have a utility to them that matches the rough lives these people lead while still being beautiful. In general the film has a monotone color palette that matches how stark the land and their lives are, but there are still many moments of beauty in the cinematography and how each shot is framed. That starkness is punctuated by a few shocking, gory, vibrantly bloody practical effects.
The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw is a haunting film that keeps audiences on the edge of their seat with each increasingly horrific event. Lee effectively makes it known that he is a filmmaker to keep an eye on. His film drips with tension and plays into the fears and desires of the residents in this isolated village. There isn’t a great sense of time throughout the film, but the bewitching visuals and captivating performances are what audiences will remember after watching the film. The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw is sure to cast a spell on you.
OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10