The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw Review: Beautifully Chilling But Too Ambiguous
Hannah Emily Anderson as Bridget Dwyer
Catherine Walker as Agatha Earnshaw
Jared Abrahamson as Colm Dwyer
Jessica Reynolds as Audrey Earnshaw
Sean McGinley as Seamus Dwyer
Geraldine O’Rawe as Deirdre Buckley
Don McKellar as Bernard Buckley
Anna Cummer as Mary Bell
Tom Carey as Lochlan Bell
Written and Directed by Thomas Robert Lee
The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw Review:
Ever since Robert Eggers’ 2015 hit The Witch — or The VVitch for you picky readers — the folk horror genre has seen a gradual comeback in film in mostly successful fashion with haunting efforts such as Netflix’s Apostle and Ari Aster’s Midsommar and though it may not quite reach the heights of its predecessors, Thomas Robert Lee’s The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw marks another fairly successful outing for the returning subgenre.
Set against the autumnal palette of harvest season in 1973, The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw explores the disturbed bond between Audrey, an enigmatic young woman, and Agatha, her domineering ‘mother’, who live secretly as occultists on the outskirts of a remote Protestant village. As the community is besieged by a pestilence of unknown origin: 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.
From the opening title crawl of the film, the story offers a unique take on the folk horror subgenre as rather than having it be set in the past or leave it for some lackluster final twist, the film chooses to acknowledge its setting of a “modern day” Protestant village living outside of contemporary society and it works. Societies such as that in the film do exist and work without the assistance of “the cities,” be it out of community pride or devotion to their religion and Lee depicts them in a realistic fashion, from the excellent production design and costume department to the dialogue occasionally referencing the outside world.
Much like Eggers’ chiller, the film takes a more psychological approach to its depiction of localized witchcraft rather than The Craft-level of hocus pocus, and this proves to be both a strong point of the film and part of its downfall. Without taking the proper time to introduce the viewer to its witch community or their goals, aside from survival, it becomes hard to determine what exactly the point is of some of Audrey’s actions against the town. Neither Audrey, her mother or the townsfolk really prove to be that sympathetic of characters, despite their varying tribulations, which make it hard to side with anyone and further question why the titular character does the things she does.
It may certainly be out of a place of evil, as Brightburn showed a redemptive arc isn’t always necessary for a coming-of-age tale, but given the few times the film tries to depict Audrey as a victim, it makes it a bit confusing as to the motivations behind her actions. Additionally, as the plot progresses and things begin to take a turn for the worse for all those involved, it becomes harder to determine what the endgame is for all its characters, especially in its chilling but far-too-ambiguous ending.
Obscure storytelling aside, Lee shows a magnificent grip on mood and atmosphere in his second feature effort behind the camera, keeping the look of the film dark and devoid of color in a way that makes every new shade of color, especially blood, all the more vivid. With a runtime of just 94 minutes, he certainly keeps the pace of the film moving steadily building towards its confrontation-heavy conclusion, even if it’s unclear why the confrontations are happening in the first place.
The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw may not hit all of the high notes of similar recent folk horror genre fare, but with a fairly interesting script and setting, a haunting atmosphere delivering plenty of shocks and some beautiful direction from Lee, it certainly keeps the unexplored territory alive in strong fashion.