I thought that, in 2021, we were past the point of “WOMAN BAD” as a sub-genre – especially played straight, without even skewering it. Yet, here we are.
The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw, currently popping up on most horror festival line-ups looked like, at least from its plot outline (villagers suspect witchcraft), that it might be in the vein of The VVitch or other gruesome deconstructions of the feminine mystique, particularly its 1970s setting, the height of the ‘satanic panic’ craze. Even that is tossed aside in favour of some old-ways, butter-churning, patriarchal pilgrim society anachronism that obviously worked so well for The Village, but this thread (isolated vs. modern) doesn’t go anywhere, either.
The village, for no reason in particular, starts suffering a sudden myriad of plagues (bad meat, crazed animals, child deaths, crop rot, lewd behaviour and, of course, the trusty dazed-and-confused impulse suicides), although a later scene clarifies that such pestilences had visited the town since an eclipse – the night the titular child Audrey was born in secret to a hermit-like mother (although this, again, seems twisted into “the village saw the child but then she died – so the title card saying she was born in secret…incorrect?”).
Things soon get bloodier and music soon gets creepier, but that’s about it – it’s a series of short stories that lose focus fast. For the first third of the film, the protagonists appear to be Audrey and her mother. But then Audrey flees her home to “help” a fellow villager who’s being beaten by her husband, only she chooses to follow someone else home – a young husband who, with his bedridden wife, is grieving the loss of their young son through good old alcohol. She pretends to fall and he carries her inside (he’s a Nice Guy), and then she casts some kind of spell that makes the young wife wander outside, eat dirt and then massacre a farm animal to use its insides as a fake baby to rock to sleep.
From here on in, it seems like the main story is split between this young couple and the two ladies Earnshaw. Instead, we meet two more families, one of whom has too much lip filler to believably play a 1970s villager living a homestead life, and then eventually the story makes its way back to the young mother, who is pregnant again. No, it’s just too much, it’s too bitty, it’s a series of trailers for short films.
It’s an old-fashioned society, so we get it – women get no say in family planning, in safe travel, in trade, or even just a normal conversations. Men are doctors, tradesmen, priests. The women (and in one scene, a young girl) are force-fed rotten mystery meat, are forcibly suffocated with ether to ‘calm’ them down (just use the word ‘hysteria’ and fucking get on with it), and no way to an abortion even if you’re visibly too sick to carry to term, which treats us to a hideous outhouse scene in which a character shoves a giant safety razor up her vagina. Fucking hell.
Beauty, youth, femininity are bad – a young woman’s beauty is so powerful it can magically force men to commit despicable acts like murder their family or ‘fondle themselves’ (SEX BAD, MASTURBATION BAD). What cringelord incel fuckery is this shit? At least tackle these subjects if you’re going to bring them up instead of just depicting them unironically. I’m so tired of this nothing of a theme continuing to exist. It’s not even storytelling anymore.
This is derivative women torture porn but not made by women. It has nothing to say, and whatever it does eke out in sporadic bursts of atmosphere it can’t even commit to because it’s incapable of sticking with a protagonist. The Irish accents from the non-Irish actors are abysmal, the sound mixing is poor (we need to actually hear dialogue), and the scenes are over-edited and underlit. The song at the end was competently eerie, as were small chunks of the film itself (a white-eyed scene of cult-like figures, while unoriginal, still unnerved me), so an idea, a concept, a mood – something was there initially. But it gets suffocated under its own tone-building and ends up coming off as flat, dull imitations of its far superior folk-horror influences.