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Review: The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw

October 9, 2020

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The most obvious comparison to The Curse of Audrey Earnsahw, Canadian filmmaker Robert Thomas Lee’s new period horror film which was produced with the participation of Telefilm Canada, would be The Witch.

Like that 2015 film directed by Robert Eggers, Lee’s film is another work of folk horror that takes a slow burn approach to telling its story about famines and suspected witchcraft, and really leans in to establishing a creepy atmosphere through its rural setting.

But instead of being set in the 1800s, The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw actually takes place during the 1973 harvest season, in an isolated village of Protestant settlers who have been living the exact same way since establishing their North American settlement a century earlier.

We are told in the film’s opening title crawl that the local farmers have been struck by crop shortages and the death of livestock ever since 1956, when a “pestilence” spread throughout their land, during a mysterious phenomenon dubbed “the eclipse.” The only farm that has continued to flourish is that of Agatha Earnshaw (Catherine Walker), a woman “suspected of heresy” whose crops have remained bountiful.

Agatha has a daughter named Audrey (Jessica Reynolds), who was born seventeen years ago during the eclipse. She has kept Audrey hidden from the villagers, and we see early on that they have connections to the occult. Things start to go wrong when Audrey is seen by one of the locals (Canadian filmmaker Don McKellar), and when she witness her mother being mistreated by another villager (Jared Abrahamson), she decides to enact revenge.

In his second feature as writer and director, Lee does a very good job of building a strong sense of atmosphere, heightened by the solid work of cinematographer Nick Thomas. The film has a subdued look to it, with an autumnal colour palate that really sets the tone for a story set at harvest time, and the period setting is established quite well through excellent costumes and production design. The film’s moody atmosphere is further heightened by an appropriately eery musical score courtesy of composers Bryan Buss and Thilo Schaller. The performances by the ensemble cast are also strong.

While the film takes place in the second half of the 20th century, its characters exist in a world that has remained in the past and hasn’t changed since the 1800s in terms of how they live, how they dress, and what they believe. When we see an airplane fly over head at one point, it’s actually quite jarring. This is a very interesting backdrop for the story, with the characters choosing to live as pioneers and refusing outside help.

Aside from the opening title crawl, the film’s mythology isn’t explored as much as it could be, with some aspects of the story feeling somewhat vague. This leads to some confusion at points about how everyone is connected and what is exactly is happening. With that said, The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw is quite an accomplished film on a technical level, with Lee able to showcase a strong sense of style that makes him a filmmaker who is worth keeping an eye on.

This is an effectively creepy Canadian folk horror film, that succeeds thanks to a well handled sense of atmosphere and some unsettling imagery. It’s a good seasonal offering for genre fans, and the final scene is also quite well done, ending The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw on a nicely disturbing note.

The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw is opening in select theatres today, and will be released across digital and VOD platforms on October 20th. It’s being distributed in Canada by A71.

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