Witches can symbolically have varied meanings, however, they should ideally be at the intersection of the power of women, and society’s fear of powerful women. The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw nails both of these references, with only a few areas of murkiness within.
Taking place somewhere in rural Canada on an Irish settlement that is trapped in the past, The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw might as well take place during pioneer times. The year is given as 1973, and while we see a child spot an airplane at one point, the film instead takes place in their world of hand-tilled crops and home births.
Seventeen years before, Agatha Earnshaw (Catherine Walker) gave birth to daughter Audrey (Jessica Reynolds) during an eclipse. In a time of famine and disease in their settlement they are the only farm producing consistent crops, and they are doing quite well too. When townsman Lochlan Bell (Tom Carey) comes to ask for help, Agatha tells Audrey that he is a “villain” and they are never to help these men. It is then that we realize Audrey is being hidden from the town, and no one is to know that she exists.
Traveling through town proves tricky for them, especially when local Colm Dwyer (Jared Abrahamson) strikes Agatha and yells at her for flaunting her largess on the way through. Audrey sees it all, and thinks less of her mother for not fighting back.
But this journey is worth all the frustration for they are on their way to meet with their coven. The group of women in white perform their blood rituals over Audrey and are quite satisfied with the outcome. This is also the one time Audrey is allowed to interact with anyone aside from her mother. In conferring with the high priestess (Barb Mitchell) it is obvious that she is not immune from a streak of teenage rebellion.
An unfortunate run in with a local man on their journey home leaves Agatha feeling exposed and Audrey emboldened. The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw then takes off on its path of curses and suspicion between the townsfolk and the pair of witches in their midst. They leave a bloody trail behind them as rumors and accusations spread through their little rural enclave.
The unapologetic embrace of the witches from the beginning is one of the more refreshing facets of The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw. The film does not waste any time toying with the nature of the Earnshaw women, and instead focuses on their treatment by townsfolk. We may know they are witches, but the town only suspects them and treats them poorly just in case it is justified. The hate they get from these alleged pious folk exposes their inhumane treatment of those different than them, and makes the audience slightly less empathetic to their issues with crops and livestock. This is not to say that they are “asking for” a famine, but it would be easier for them to gain sympathy if they were kinder.
The other part of that equation is the reality that unkindness should not be a death sentence. While the townsfolk are not ones to cast stones, their punishment from Audrey is not proportionate to their crimes. We see her for what she is: a powerful young witch with the impulse control of a teenager, which is very dangerous indeed.
While the mind games and ribbons of revenge flowing through The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw are fascinating, the film comes up a bit short in developing the mythology of the coven and their role in Audrey’s upbringing. It is clear that they are the most interesting part of the film, but we instead spend most of the time getting to know the politics of the townsfolk and their interpersonal issues. Often a minimal tease of the deviance behind the curtain satisfies, but here it merely hints at what could have been.
That’s not to say The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw is wholly unsatisfying. It is a striking glimpse into a witchy world of crops and villains, but it does leave us partially unsatiated.