If you took The Village and Rosemary’s Baby and tossed them into a blender, you’d have the moody aesthetic of The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw. An opening text scroll delivers setup exposition about an isolated settlement established in the late 1800s and the briefest history overview. The most important note is that a child was birthed in secret to a suspected heretic during an eclipse, and pestilence blighted the land since. From there, the film settles into an atmospheric occult tale that casts a vague, slow-burn spell.
Agatha Earnshaw (A Dark Song’s Catherine Walker) passes by the village church with her bountiful harvest in tow, unaware that she’s trespassing at a funeral. The villagers surround her in anger, unaware that they’re on the verge of uncovering her seventeen-year-old secret, her daughter Audrey (Jessica Reynolds). Agatha’s crops thrive while the land around her spoils, and it draws the villagers’ scorn, paranoia, and hate. The isolated woman is presumed to dabble in witchcraft, and as her journey soon reveals, the villagers aren’t entirely wrong. Audrey has grown tired of living in secret, and the abuse hurled at her mother, and decides its time to let loose her rage.
Straightaway, writer/director Thomas Robert Lee paints a puzzling picture. Essential information is missing, failing to bridge the gap between the opening text crawl and the opening scene that shows tensions already bubbling over. The looming question is whether the villagers deserve their current suffering and how that relates to Audrey’s birth. There’s no inciting event or catalyst in play. Dropping us in at this point in the story makes it difficult to get a foothold on this world and find rooting interest among the characters.
Audrey fixates on the young man, Colm (Jared Abrahamson), that attacked Agatha at the funeral, using him to flex her growing power and enact vengeance. It’s here where the horrors begin and with it some fantastic imagery. Still, the why of it remains held out of reach. Not knowing much about these characters and their motivations makes it difficult to care. It doesn’t help that most of them seem petulant and devoid of emotional depth beyond fear and wrath. The first appearance of Colm’s wife, Bridget (Hannah Emily Anderson), is while she’s sleeping. Once awake, she’s already under a supernatural attack. Meaning she has no identity outside of being cursed. We empathize solely because of her circumstance; there’s nothing else to her character.
That applies across the board in a script more interested in telling, not showing. Except it doesn’t say much; Lee keeps the answers dangled so far out of reach that it makes for a sparse narrative. These characters drift through a series of actions and beats without agency. It does at least lend a cursed tone to Lee’s drab, atmospheric aesthetic.
On a technical level, Lee directs with proficiency, and the camera work is great. The imagery can be nightmarish, and it leans into the bloodier side of occultism. In other words, this movie favors style over substance. There’s a sturdy outline of a plot here, but Lee fills in the gaps with visuals. The languid pacing doesn’t build into a satisfying payoff; it just fades into the ether. It’s an unfocused folktale that wears its influences on its sleeves but doesn’t quite know what to do with them. The real curse of Audrey Earnshaw is that her spell is too vague and unfocused to be effective.
The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw made its world premiere at the Fantasia International Film Festival.