Review: ‘The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw,’ starring Jessica Reynolds, Catherine Walker, Jared Abrahamson, Hannah Emily Anderson, Geraldine O’Rawe, Don McKellar and Sean McGinley

October 11, 2020

by Carla Hay

Jessica Reynolds in “The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw” (Photo courtesy of Epic Pictures)

“The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw”

Directed by Thomas Robert Lee

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1973 in an unnamed rural area in North America, the horror film “The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw” has an all-white cast representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A teenage girl has a mother who is suspected of being a witch and who goes to great lengths to hide her from the people in their town.

Culture Audience: “The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw” will appeal primarily to people who like atmospheric and suspenseful horror stories about the supernatural.

Catherine Walker in “The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw” (Photo courtesy of Epic Pictures)

“The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw” (written and directed by Thomas Robert Lee) is an effectively bleak and brooding film that doesn’t do anything groundbreaking in the horror genre. However, the movie serves up the right amount of eerie chills that should please horror fans who like stories about strange happenings in a small village that might or not be affected by witchcraft. “The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw” is about a community in 1973 that is stuck in a past century, but many of the film’s social themes—such as society privilege, discrimination against people who are considered “different,” and the right for a woman to choose when to have a child—are all relevant to today.

The beginning of “The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw” has text on screen explaining the background of the village that’s at the center of this movie’s story: In 1873, a group of families separated from the Church of Ireland and settled in an isolated part of North America. (The movie was actually filmed in the Canadian city of Calgary.) The settlers kept their traditional ways and shunned new inventions and technology.

In 1956, a phenomenon, which was later called “the eclipse” by the villagers, resulted in a plague that spread throughout the community. This pestilence caused soil to be poisoned and livestock to get sick or die. However, one farm that’s far from the other residences seems to be immune from this plague: the farm owned by Agatha Earnshaw, who secretly gave birth to a daughter named Audrey during the eclipse.

Agatha’s place is the only farm in the area where the crops and livestock are thriving, while the rest of the villagers are suffering from food shortages because of their diseased crops and ailing farm animals. Because of Agatha’s uncommon fortune in not being affected by the plague and her abundance of food, people suspect that she is a witch. The village’s resentment against her also increases because she refuses to sell or trade any of her overflowing stock of food.

That’s what happens in the opening scene of the film, which takes place in 1973, when a man named Lochlan Bell (played by Tom Carey) makes an unannounced visit to Agatha’s farm and begs her to trade what he has for some food. He tells Agatha that he has a family to feed, but she stubbornly refuses to sell or trade any food to him. As a dejected Lochlan walks away, Audrey, who is 17, comes out of hiding and asks Agatha who that man was. Agatha replies that the man is a “villain” who “steals girls like you” and “that’s why they can never know about you.”

Agatha has gone to great lengths to hide that Audrey exists and won’t leave Audrey by herself. When Agatha travels into town by carriage, Audrey is hidden in the carriage’s wooden trunk. Audrey doesn’t know any other life, but as she gets older, she begins to find out that not everything her mother tells her is true.

One day, Agatha takes the carriage in town and happens to pass by a funeral for a boy named Liam Dwyer, who recently died under mysterious circumstances: He suddenly stopped breathing. Liam’s grieving parents are Colin Dwyer (played by Jared Abrahamson) and Bridget Dwyer (played by Hannah Emily Anderson), and the funeral service is being conducted by Colin’s compassionate pastor father Seamus Dwyer (played by Sean McGinley). Liam, who is never seen in the movie, was Colin and Bridget’s only child.

Colin sees Agatha passing by with her carriage full of food and becomes so offended that he lashes out at her. He thinks that Agatha is flaunting her abundance of food in front of the starving villagers, and he’s particularly insulted that she’s doing it at the funeral of his son. Agatha protests and says she didn’t know about the funeral, but Colin gets so angry that he hits Agatha and accuses her of being a witch. Seamus calms Colin down and makes a gentlemanly attempt to protect her. A visibly shaken Agatha leaves the scene.

Hidden inside the trunk, Audrey hears everything that happened. And based on the conversation she has with her mother later, it’s clear that although Audrey was aware that Agatha was not well-liked by the villagers, it has now reached a level of violence that alarms Audrey, who is starting to wonder if what the villagers are saying is true. Agatha tries to dismiss her fears and says that Audrey should trust her, not the villagers.

Lochlan, Colin, Bridget and Seamus all become entangled in Audrey and Agatha’s world in some way. There is also a married couple named Deirdre Buckley (played by Geraldine O’Rawe) and Bernard Buckley (played by Don McKellar) who are affected by many of the occurrences in this story. It’s enough to say that an act of revenge sets off a series of events revealing the true natures of Agatha and Audrey.

During all of the turmoil that happens, Bridget finds out that she’s pregnant, but she is convinced that something is wrong with the baby. She begins acting strangely, such as one night when Colin finds Bridget eating something bloody outside in their field. Bridget is so disturbed by how the pregnancy is making her act and feel that she tells Colin that she wants to terminate the pregnancy. Colin thinks she’s crazy for not wanting to have the child, and he orders her to have the baby, no matter how she feels.

“The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw,” which features terrific cinematography by Nick Thomas, has a sepia-toned atmosphere that eerily represents the otherworldly environment of a community living in a past century, conjuring up the look of a photograph from the 1870s. The brown-ish look of the film also representing the ongoing desolation of a community that has a mostly barren landscape but the villagers refuse to go anywhere else, even though their environment seems to be cursed. They are stuck in the past in more ways than one.

This oppressive atmosphere has a great deal to do with what ends up happening in the story, which writer/director Lee has crafted with a slow-burn pace that might be a little too slow for some viewers, but the tone is just right in portraying a community that is far removed from a fast-paced urban life. The movie gradually unpeels the layers of the mother/daughter relationship between Agatha and Audrey and reveals that there’s more to Audrey and Agatha’s story than what it initially appears to be in the beginning of the movie.

All of the actors do a fine job in their roles. But as the title character, Reynolds has the biggest responsibility in doing a convincing portrayal of Audrey’s complexities. It’s an impressive feature-film debut from Reynolds, who skillfully portrays the innocence of an overprotected child and the mystery of someone whom her mother wants to keep a secret. With its intriguing story, “The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw” has plenty of creepy and gruesome images, along with subtle commentary about feminine power and oppression, that make it an above-average horror film.

Epic Pictures released “The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw” in select U.S. cinemas, digital on VOD on October 2, 2020. The movie’s Blu-ray and DVD release date is on October 20, 2020.