Review: ‘The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw’ (teen witch rebellion)

What to do with a problem like Audrey.

“In 1873, a group of families separated from the Church of Ireland and established an isolated settlement in North America… the villagers kept to the old ways. 1956 — Following a phenomenon later dubbed The Eclipse, a pestilence spread throughout the community… (while) a farmstead belonging to Agatha Earnshaw (Catherine Walker)… remained prosperous. Agatha gave birth to a daughter during the eclipse — Audrey (Jessica Reynolds) — kept secret from the villagers. For the last 17 years, the community struggled through increasing hardships, none so damning as the sense that God has abandoned them.”

This opening scroll unloads a lot of exposition, coupled with the idea this Amish-like township shuns the modern world of 1973, as if the setting hadn’t changed for the last century. Of course it has… if the witch in their midst offers any explanation. Isolated and desperate, it seems likely that a single push in the wrong direction could result in a torch and pitchfork mob showing up at the Earnshaw residence, but the other problem is why exactly does Agatha feel the need to keep Audrey hidden from everyone: a dark prophecy to be fulfilled, or greedily keeping her daughter only for herself?

Sometimes mysteries are good… and sometimes they damn well need an explanation. The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw teases more than it reveals, hurting an ending that looked like it was going someplace darker but couldn’t quite get there. Filmmakers choosing to showcase witchery without really figuring out exactly what to show proves to be a poor choice, unlike The VVitch which cleverly hinted at such power that needed no explanation. Up until those moments, Audrey offers satisfactory horror and goodwill to those jonesing for creepy Autumn and Halloween atmosphere, but missing scenes and/or required exposition cause the ending to come up short.

Earning most of the goodwill herein are the lead actors, but the script appears aimless due to the lack of whys. On one hand, Audrey is suddenly being exposed to the random townsfolk for the first time, yet Audrey herself seems otherworldly for supposedly having no previous interaction; did she used to lurk about and spy on them? Then there’s traditional teenage rebellion to get out from under her mother’s thumb without any specific explanation… yet Audrey seems keenly aware of her purpose even if as audience does not. Finally, the villagers aren’t particularly clueless about what’s going on, but you’d think at some point there would be either be a mass exodus from Backwardsville or at least a good ol’ burning at the stake. It hard to care for victims who don’t particularly care all that much for themselves, and failing to make any of these subplots work are all three missed opportunities.

That there are other witches nearby feels very Hereditary-inspired — another film that chose imagery over substance (issues happily fixed in Ari Aster’s followup MidSommar) — yet those witches also seemed to be part of the same old-ways community. Is Audrey really a soulless, sociopathic narcissist or simply the Devil’s daughter? It’s just more implication without confirmation, making the ambiguous ending hinting at a continuing story all the more frustrating. Good visuals, well-acted, and a few decent moments of horror, but like so many, this curse asks to be avoided.

The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw is unrated for nudity, gore, and too often turning away when something really needed to be shown.

Two skull recommendation out of four

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