Out now in select theaters and VOD from IFC Midnight, Adam MacDonald’s (Backcountry) latest, Pyewacket, delves deep into the world of black metal and witchcraft but, at its heart, it’s a dark fable about a mother-daughter feud that gets entirely out of hand. The two leads, Laurie Holden and Nicole Múnoz, both give powerhouse performances and MacDonald, in only his second outing as director, drives the movie home with a decidedly twisted, gut-punch of an ending.
Both actresses and MacDonald feel that Pyewacket is something special and we do, too. At the end of our interview, Holden herself gave an ominous warning that cuts right to the core of Pyewacket’s main message. “Be careful what you wish for. Someone might be listening.”
“When you’re dealing with demons, be careful what you wish for… In this ultra-unsettling occult nightmare, teenage Leah (Nicole Muñoz) finds solace from the recent death of her father—and from her strained relationship with her mother (Laurie Holden)—by dabbling in the dark arts. It all seems like harmless fun at first, until a blow out argument leads Leah to do the unthinkable: put a death curse on her mother. No sooner has the girl performed the ritual than she regrets it. But it may be too late, as an evil presence known as Pyewacket begins to make itself known—and threatens to destroy both mother and daughter.”
Pyewacket came to select theaters and VOD on March 23.
Dread Central: So, my cat’s name growing up was Pyewacket! My Mom was a big fan of Bell, Book, and Candle with Kim Novak playing a witch that seduces Jimmy Stewart and her cat’s name is Pyewacket. Obviously that’s not where you get the name from Adam. Where did you first hear the name and why did you think it could work as a title?
Adam MacDonald: I was reading William Friedkin’s biography, to be honest, and I forgot that he did the movie The Guardian back in 1990. I watched it and I heard the name “Pyewacket” because the nanny names one of the stuffed animals of the baby that and it just floored me. What a great name! And it just stemmed from there and then I did some research on it and wanted to do something on the occult and use a little bit of my own life as a foundation. It all stemmed from that name. I stole one shot from that film as a little homage. There’s one shot that’s right from that movie.
DC: What shot is it?
AM: It’s when Pyewacket arrives at her window in the dark at night when she first comes to the room. In The Guardian he’s sleeping in bed, he wakes up and sees someone standing in the shadow in the window frame.
Laurie Holden: Which is a recurring nightmare for me, by the way.
DC: In that shot, it looks like you. The demon takes on your characteristics. Are you scared watching your performance?
LH: To be honest, I can’t be scared watching myself because it’s me. But the other aspects of the film were very unsettling. The actual Pyewacket I thought was terrifying.
DC: In The Walking Dead, there are external forces that everyone is banning together to fight. In Pyewacket you turn on a loved one that you’re sworn to protect. Does that kind of betrayal lead to more drama and a more intimate kind of storytelling?
LH: Well, I think why this film resonates with so many people on such an emotional and visceral level is that people can relate to the pain and the struggle of these characters. They identify with the relationship and I think Pyewacket and “The Walking Dead” feel real on so many levels because they are true authentic emotional experiences that people understand and have lived through themselves. That’s just life, really.
DC: Laurie, do you think you have the biggest character arc throughout the film? We see you mourning the loss of your husband and hints of what you were like before that. Then, of course, we see something else entirely from you once things start to get crazy.
LH: I wouldn’t say the biggest character arc because Nicole’s character goes through an extraordinary journey too. In many ways I feel like this film is a two-hander: the mother-daughter story but it’s told through the eyes of the young girl. So I think that we both, equally, go through a pretty profound extraordinary journey.
DC: Laurie actually really scared me towards the end of the film. Did she get under your skin as well Nicole on set during those scenes?
Nicole Muñoz: Did I get scared during those scenes as well? Yes, I was absolutely terrified. Especially, I guess it wasn’t actually Laurie at this point, it was Bianca [Melchior] as Pyewacket when I’m hiding in the bush and Pyewacket starts doing that contortion… we had to do a couple takes because I would run too early because I was too scared. What [Laurie Holden] did to her voice manipulation was incredibly creepy to me. Even on our lunch break she was doing ADR, I couldn’t eat my lunch, it was really scary to hear.
LH: For me, I think the scariest part of shooting this film was not the horror aspect. The scariest part for me was how harsh I had to be towards my daughter. Those scenes were particularly challenging for me because: (a) I love Nicole and didn’t want to raise my voice to her and (b) It’s so not an emotion that I’m necessarily comfortable with, it’s very foreign for me. I thank Adam because he really encouraged me to go for the jugular and it needed to go there. Those were very scary places for me to go. That was my idea of horror.
NM: I have to add to that. The scariest, scariest part… for me, it was having to question my own consciousness. The whole theme of ‘Don’t trust your lying eyes.’ That was the scariest element for me.
DC: Adam, can you talk a little bit about the research that went into the ritual and the spell that [the character] Leah casts?
AM: I’m glad you asked that, you’re one of the very few that has and I appreciate that. I watched so many documentaries, read “The Left Hand Path,” Aleister Crowley, “The Book of Shadows,” some dark shit, man, and it kind of scared me. I went to a couple of really authentic magic stores that aren’t very playful. They’re very serious about their stuff.
I had this book that was very, very thorough on rituals and I didn’t want to do a real one. I took two rituals: the ritual she uses in the movie is “Drawing Down the Moon” is one and the other is a love ritual and they’re both combined. What I really appreciated, I went to this store in Toronto that’s pretty well known and I showed him the ritual after we shot and everything was done. He looked at me and said, ‘You did this? Do you know what you’re doing?’ He knew the rituals. This isn’t a real one but all the elements that she does in the movie are accurate…
DC: Adam, did you ever think about having a happy ending?
AM: Absolutely not.
LH: What would that happy ending even be?
AM: The happy ending to me was that I got to make an unhappy ending.