The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan



The key to making a great horror movie is to focus on the people as much as on the scares. Yes, the scary stuff is important, but unless we feel how the characters are being affected, it's just gimmickry. Pyewacket is an example of how to do things right. It takes elements that have been used in many other horror films, then dives deeply into the unfathomable implications they may have for the individuals at the center of the story. Writer/director Adam MacDonald (Backcountry) has made a film that simultaneously scares the hell out of you and puts you through the emotional wringer.

Nicole Munoz plays Leah, a troubled teen girl. As a way of coping with her angst, she vents to her Goth friends. They're basically posers, pretending to be into the occult because they know it sets them apart and upsets authority figures. When Leah has a major fight with her mother (Laurie Holdren), she deals with the anger by enacting a demonic curse she discovers in a book. It soon becomes clear that she really has summoned a witch, who is, in all likelihood, coming to kill her mom. As the hard feelings between them cool off, Leah realizes the scope of what she's done and frantically searches for a way to prevent the curse from being carried out.

The genius of Pyewacket is the manner in which it authentically portrays the fractured parent/child relationship. MacDonald nails the specifics the bickering, the way issues from the past are hauled up in the present, the way mother and daughter know exactly how to push each other's buttons. The flip side is well-represented too. For all their feuding, Leah and her mother can turn on a dime, realizing they've been too harsh in their words. They love and need one another, despite occasional antagonism. That sort of love/hate dynamic is frequently present between parents and teens, and Pyewacket builds a foundation on it.

The two lead actresses are outstanding in their respective roles. Munoz effectively conveys the impulsivity that drives Leah. She's got a lot of confused feelings swirling around inside of her, yet has seemingly never been taught a constructive way of dealing with them. Munoz's performance gets at how that bubbles up until it blows. Holdren, meanwhile, walks the perfect balance in showing that her character is the mature adult, yet quite capable of being pulled down to Leah's immature level at times. Both actresses give complex, layered performances that add depth to the story.

Because the mother/daughter dynamic is so true, and because the stars do such strong work, the horror aspect of Pyewacket packs a devastating punch. The movie becomes a race against the clock as Leah tries to prevent catastrophe, while additionally working as a meditation on guilt. If her mother dies, it will be 100% her fault. The former provides nail-biting tension; the latter provides pathos to heighten that tension.

The final fifteen minutes of Pyewacket are so intense that you might just find yourself holding your breath during them. MacDonald knows how to take all the suspense he's built and tie it together into a finale that leaves you shaken. In the end, this is much more than just a movie designed to scare the audience, although it certainly succeeds at that level. It's also a powerful, unnerving story about how loved ones sometimes hurt each other, as well as the repercussions of saying and doing things that might not be able to be taken back.

( 1/2 out of four)

Pyewacket is unrated, but contains strong language and some intense visuals. The running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes.

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