THE CURSE OF AUDREY EARNSHAW
Directed & Written by Thomas Robert Lee
Starring: Jessica Reynolds, Catherine Walker, Jared Abrahamson, Hannah Emily Anderson, Sean McGinley, Geraldine O’Rowe, Don McKellar
“We are the faithful ones, but God smiles upon you. Why is that?!”
Agatha Earnshaw (Catherine Walker) and her daughter Audrey (Jessica Reynolds) live on a dying village’s outskirts with a secret that they must keep close. The dying village, a faithful Protestant town, has been riddled with plague, famine, and death. The crops grow nowhere else but on Earnshaw’s land, and everyone wants to know why God has decided to play favorites with Agatha. They suspect something sinister, but can not prove it. When Audrey sees how hostile the villagers can be towards her mother, she refuses to take it lying down and hatches a plan to make them all pay.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, “This could totally be The Witch.” I absolutely agree with that. However, while it does have the folk elements of that movie, this is much more of a slower burn, which helps and hurts the film in a lot of ways but doesn’t hurt overall.
The slow burn stretches out the narrative in a way that you get to be involved in everyone’s lives, but it also becomes a bit confusing at times (especially when the rules come on board for Audrey’s ascension). Everyone is so paranoid and suspicious of one another. It keeps you engaged with them throughout the film, eager to know what happens to them.
While the characters do the heavy lifting, the village in itself is a character too. The village being ravaged by plague and famine is familiar but interesting, and we become so uncomfortable in this setting. The narrative being slow and methodical weaves its way to get under your skin, how folklore should be told. It flickers with the smallest of details to get you hooked. And that’s what The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw did, and did quite well. It hooked itself into my psyche and kept me asking questions.
The movie gives you the answers, but never REALLY gives them. It feels like we’re handed the story, but there are still some missing pieces to it. There are a couple of main themes I found watching this, but Thomas Robert Lee’s use of the mother and daughter dynamic kept me completely engulfed with the story.
“YOU TOOK IT LIKE A DOG.”
Agatha is trying her best to live without people getting into her business. Now that she has Audrey, she wants to protect her as much as possible from forces that she couldn’t possibly understand right now. Audrey wants desperately to help her mother in any way she can but is shut down every time. Agatha is distrustful of those in the village, and Audrey is confused about why they hate her. As Audrey finds herself, Agatha starts to slowly see the type of person Audrey can/will become, which makes her paranoid to the fact that she’s growing up. She’s not a little girl to control anymore. She’s becoming.
The mother-daughter dynamic is the scariest one in the world. It can lead to being paranoid, jealous, anxious, controlling, attached, and all-around toxic. In The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw, this was one of those toxic mother/daughter dynamics, but with controlling and paranoia at the forefront. The toxicity of their relationship comes from within. Agatha had to be cold and turned off. That’s how she’s survived, but at first, with Audrey, she’s gentle. But, the dynamics shift when Audrey is more a part of the rituals with her coven friends. She’s becoming a woman of her own power, but Agatha wants to keep her caged like a butterfly. It’s not an equal relationship either, and Agatha is weak to her power.
We feel the dynamic from this stable, happy home, where Audrey is good, docile, ready to take orders. When a villager slaps Agatha, she asks one of the coven witches what she can do. Later, Agatha asks Audrey what she talked to her about. She says, “I told them you took it like a dog.” and she slaps her. This is where we see the shift from a happy home to a dysfunctional one. Audrey’s power grows. Her hunger to take revenge and take her rightful place on the “throne” is to overthrow Agatha, both as her mother and as the household’s powerful one.
It’s subtle, but the movements on both of them are clear. Audrey will go her own. Agatha will fear for her life. It creeps throughout the rest of the film. Agatha is almost scared of Audrey, which doesn’t help Audrey’s final blow to Agatha. She knew it was coming. She knew to fear for her life, but she didn’t think that it would be at the hands of her own child.
COMING OF AGE IN THE TIME OF PLAGUE
When making notes while watching this film, I made a big one that said, “Snow White. But make her a witch. A coming of age in the time of a plague.” Because that’s the overall vibe of this movie, with that, I think, makes it something to see.
The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw could be a great low-key horror treasure. It’s brimming with things to pull apart and piece back together for viewers and writers. It has an eerieness to it brought out by wonderful actors that do the damn thing. (Special shoutout to Hannah Emily Anderson, you carried most of the emotional work and still looked absolutely stunning.) It also may satisfy those who love folk horror.
Again, The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw is very much a slow-burn but not enough to deter you from seeing it. It’s a classic folklore tale that I would love to revisit because you can pull other themes from the movie such as family ties, religion, paranoia, and how witchcraft is even depicted in this film. However, there are still many questions to be asked from this film, and they leave it vague at best.
I won’t lie, it’s not perfect, but it’s stunning and entertaining. It carries great folk horror beats, but still plants seeds to grow a remarkable story that’s full of gorgeous imagery, untamed characters, and a great lead that I think everyone can get behind. (Audrey rules, fight me.)