Pyewacket (2017): The Horror of Grief and Loss, as Expressed by a Girl who Shops at Hot Topic
Mateo Keegan Burbano
31 October 2019
Pyewacket is written and directed by Adam MacDonald, and stars Nicole Muñoz and Laurie Holden of The Walking Dead fame as her mother. The Reyes family is struggling to make a go at it as a family of two, the father and husband having died sometime in the past year.
Nicole has turned to the occult and dark rituals as a way of coping with her father’s death. She hangs out with the punks, emo kids and wiccans at her high school, and spends her weekends going to book signings of occult authors. Her mother feels stuck, unable to move on in her life after her husband’s death. Without talking it over with Nicole, she moves them out to a rural cabin in the woods, far from Nicole’s school, friends, and much else. Nicole doesn’t take this change well. After a particularly charged mother daughter fight, the mother, in anger, calls Nicole and her friends losers. Nicole storms off into the woods with her occult supplies and performs a ritual to summon a vengeful familiar, the Pyewacket.
As part of the ritual, Nicole has to cut herself. She cuts deeper than she means to and is surprised by how much blood there is. She soon regrets her actions, when her mother bandages her up and tearfully apologizes for her earlier words.
Like the film The Babadook (2014), Pyewacket explores different manifestations of grief and loss. Where The Babadook focused on the mother’s duel experiences of grieving her dead husband and suddenly being the sole person responsible for raising a child, Pyewacket focuses on how loss is experienced by a teenage girl who is also dealing with figuring out who she is as a person, where she fits in, and her sexuality. Where the creature in The Babadook represented need and insecurity, the creature summoned by Nicole represents all her feminine teen angst and confusion.
Nicole and her mother begin to grow closer to one another, yet Nicole suspects that her summoning of the Pyewacket was successful. At night, she hears movements and noises. Nicole and her mother almost have a headlong collusion with another car, and Nicole believes the creature was responsible.The film’s tension builds and adds to the girl’s paranoia with the sound of discordant strings and shadows moving throughout the house. A dark shape unfolds itself from the corner of the ceiling in the girl’s room. The girl wakes up in the woods, barefoot, with her hands covered in blood, and no memory of how she got there.
Nicole becomes further alienated when her friends turn on her after she confesses to using black magic to hurt her mother. Nicole spends more time alone in the cabin after her mother starts working in a local giftshop. She returns to the books that started the whole mess and reaches out to one of the books author’s through email, the same author from the signing. He gets back to her and tells her the history of the Pyewacket. He describes the evil creature as a river that flows through the summoner and warns her the demon will turn on Nicole after it’s done with her mother. To rid herself of the Pyewacket, she has to perform the summoning ritual in reverse. She’s warned that the creature can take many forms and to not trust anything she sees.
What follows is a terrifying, claustrophobic sequence as Nicole battles the Pyewacket, after it assumes the form of her mother. The film ends violently and sadly. Pyewacket might be too slow for some horror fans, but its final gut punch is doubly tragic in how it could have been avoided if Nicole and her mother had been able to be open with each other about their struggles with grief and loss, a warning to more than just horror film protagonists.
4 out of 5 Satanic rituals in the woods
Pyewacket is currently available on Hulu.