Editor’s Note: Bloody Good Horror returns to the Fantasia International Film Festival to review some of the fest’s 2020 virtual offerings. If you’re a reader living in Canada, you can find more information about how to watch films and programs here. We would like to thank Fantasia for allowing us access to review these films.
The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw opens with the kind of world-building more common in a fantasy epic or space opera than a horror movie. A text crawl informs us that a few hundred years ago a Church of Ireland splinter sect emigrated to rural Canada and established a society that shunned the modern world and held to the old ways. After years of prosperity, famine struck in the 1950s and blame fell upon Agatha Earnshaw, a young woman whose crops were mysteriously unaffected by the blight. Agatha was branded as a witch and driven out of the village, which she accepted without struggle in order to protect the daughter she had secretly conceived. Now it’s seventeen years later and her daughter, Audrey, is a petulant teenager who is getting increasingly tired of having to hide in a box anytime her mother travels or has to interact with a villager. In fact, Audrey is thinking that it might be time for her mother to stand up to the community that has shunned and mistreated her for so long.
It might feel like there’s a head-spinning amount of early exposition going on, but essentially we’ve got 1970s Canada that looks like 19th century Ireland and a witchy mother and daughter scraping out a living on the outskirts of a town with which they have a separate but symbiotic relationship. One day, during a trip into the town, Audrey is in her usual hiding spot in a crate on her mother’s carriage when she overhears some local men insulting her mother. From that moment she decides she won’t abide the abuse any longer, and she begins revealing herself to villagers and placing curses on them. Soon, fruit is rotting on the trees, two-headed animals are born, and villagers begin acting very strangely and even dying under unusual circumstances.
With its pseudo-puritanical setting and dalliances with the dark arts, The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw is naturally going to draw some comparisons to The Witch. Much like Robert Eggers’s film, it’s not always clear with which characters our sympathies should lie. Because so much of the story hinges on events that took place off screen there’s the constant question if Agatha truly was a witch who was enriching herself at the expense of the town or if she was a scapegoat that small-minded townspeople falsely accused of evil. The clearest difference between the two movies is that where The Witch was largely built on atmosphere and a rigorous dedication to historical accuracy, The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw is much more traditionally plotted, right down to a climactic final showdown and the fictitious setting (as far as I know) lets first time director Thomas Robert Lee play with some historical tropes without being beholden to them.
There has been a recent spate of arty occult-based horror movies like The Witch, A Dark Song, Hereditary, and Suspiria which combine luscious visuals with heady supernatural horror. Fans of those movies should find The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw is a worthy addition to their coven.
Screened as part of the 2020 Fantasia Film Festival.