Horror tales set in those dark times of the past - away from today's cellular communication and wiki-page info that is more mundane than arcane - have a special cast of magic to them. The pall of the unknown all the more heightened as science surrenders to folklore. Where witches have more answers than priests. The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw initially presents such a time. When superstition was fearful and deadly. Yet the cauldron of this movie never fully brews the right spell.
A religious sect, separated from the Church of Ireland, establishes a settlement in North America. The community has survived until a recent famine has struck the land save for the bountiful farm of Agatha Earnshaw. As such, she is dubbed a witch by the suspicious townspeople. The kicker being, of course, that she is. Along with her coven, Agatha's daughter Audrey is raised in secret in order to fulfill... something. A curse? A prophecy? An end to the community's sheltered existence? This point is never realized. Nor are her exact origins - or Agatha's, or this coven's - revealed.
Audrey, full of teen spirit, witnesses a verbal attack against her mother and decides to take vengeance. She targets her dark arts at the Dwyers, who are mourning the loss of their child. Other than amplifying the Dwyer family's misery, the culmination of her curse is wholly unrealized and unnecessarily open-ended. Audrey is all unwarranted anger and unfilled destiny, but she pouts beautifully.
The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw looks good. Actually, better than it should. Director Thomas Robert Lee builds an interesting world; one that is familiar, but also two steps over into the gray mist. Life is skewed and complicated here; this is not a simpler time as expected. Lee cleverly draws in on the mystery of young Audrey Earnshaw and her mother Agatha, yet he also ignores the logical lives of the other townspeople. When it comes time for their role in the play, Lee, who also writes the movie, is so deep in the lore that the cohesiveness of the plot is swept away like straw from the barn.
The Curse... might look sharp but any occult bite is sorely dulled.
Audrey is the key focus of the movie, and actress Jessica Reynolds shines. Her contrasting dark hair and alabaster skin is akin to Jennifer Connelly in Labyrinth and plays in a role full of potential. Likewise, Catherine Walker as Agatha, dutifully portrays the opposite: a life unrealized and the weight of her burden. The rest of the townspeople are a mess of Irish brogues and cliche ignorance.
Again, The Curse... looks sharp and new; a contrast perhaps to what Lee might have wanted. The sepia desaturation is a nice touch, but full-on black-and-white would have been menacingly clever.
Pioneer attire aside, The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw is set in 1973. This movie might be more reminiscent of M. Night Shyamalan's The Village than Robert Egger's The Witch, yet never hits the mystery or mystique of either movie. Instead, The Curse... is a creepy concept full of haunting potential.
The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw had the potential to register an indie voice to a specific sub-genre. Walker and Reynolds not only make a fantastically rich mother-daughter duo, but shine as characters who deserve more. The plot is a humiliating burning stake of its own with unnecessarily open questions. Audrey's origin story aside, setting the movie in 1973 is both baffling and purposeless. Lee seemingly wants to make his own personal Hereditary yet is shackled to mediocrity. For a 93-minute movie, The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw suffers from its own want with long, dry spells that are anything but bewitching.