The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw
by Hope Madden
Who’s the villain?
A vampire didn’t choose that destiny, nor the zombie, nor even the werewolf. All three are victims of fate.
The witch, however, comes to her dark powers by choice. And maybe – as Robert Eggers pointed out in his 2015 masterpiece The VVitch—that choice might even make some sense.
Since Eggers’s beguiling horror show, a number of filmmakers have joined him in his ruminations. Lukas Fiegelfeld’s mesmerizing 2017 debut Hagazussa and Luca Guadagnino’s 2018 feminist reprise of Suspiria represent the strongest among the resulting films.
Few if any will ever tell the tale so powerfully or so well as Eggers, but writer/director Thomas Robert Lee has a go with The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw. His film is interested in women’s agency, their oddness, what they owe, what they should and shouldn’t be deciding for themselves, and what they are willing to sacrifice.
It’s August of 1973, but it could just as easily be the 1950s or the 1880s. (So why 1973? It was a big year in women’s rights, after all.) A rugged woman, isolated from the nearby religious community, stands silhouetted against her barn, ax and woodpile.
She is Agatha Earnshaw (Catherine Walker), and she has a secret.
Things haven’t been right in the village since the eclipse 17 years back, but things have been especially troubling lately. Agatha has the only farm that’s producing, the only animals that haven’t taken sick.
Performances are wonderful in a film that looks rustic and spooky, creating a time out of time. Walker, who was so effective in the wonderful little Irish horror Dark Song, cuts an impressive figure of maternal ferocity. She’s orbited by consistently impressive turns, whether the sincere pastor (Sean McGinley), entitled patriarch (Tom Carey), distraught husband (Jared Abrahamson), or young woman finding her voice (Jessica Reynolds).
Each man, however sympathetic or compassionate, represents danger. Like a lot of horror films, The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw is a coming-of-age cautionary tale: fear the power of womanhood. But Lee is careful to keep asking who, exactly, is the villain here?
The direction is too often obvious: a cough, a handkerchief, blood. At other times, cinematic choices betray the film’s low budget. The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw will never reach the ranks of classic, but it makes a lot of bold choices and leaves an impression.