In a curious move, The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw leans heavily upon an opening scrawl to provide its surrounding context. The details are truly compelling, briefly chronicling the formation and decisive isolation of a settlement in 1870s Ireland after surviving two great wars and the enlightenment of scientific progress. The story picks up in the late 1950s, yet writer/director Thomas Robert Lee and his team of production designers and set decorators have built a closed world that seemingly matches the earlier period of that scrawl. Most of the inhabitants of the settlement suffered a great pestilence during this period, which soiled the land and livestock. The Earnshaws, a family of supposedly heretical outlaws, were somehow exempt from that devastation.

Reading this information, which has the tinge of horror in it (particularly in the detail that an illegitimate daughter has been hidden away from a fundamentally religious community), one gets that jolt of excitement and the expectation of a rich story that might place character above everything. As the story moves forward, though, it becomes clear that Lee is only interested in building a repetitive and formulaic scare show. It doesn’t precisely begin that way, instead starting out with an admirable degree of atmosphere and mystery. What has happened to disenfranchise the Earnshaws, now only comprised of Agatha (Catherine Walker) and her daughter Audrey (Jessica Reynolds, chilling in an auspicious debut performance), from the rest of the people on this settlement?

There is something strange occurring to the townspeople who somehow cross paths with Audrey, whose very existence has remained something of a local legend. One man poisons his wife and daughter, paranoid about being able to provide for them in the current climate. Another man, named Buckley (a great Don McKellar, anguished without toppling too far over the top), becomes dangerously obsessed with Audrey after happening upon her and Agatha on the street, and later, his wife (Geraldine O’Rawe) falls into a terrible depression. The most significant part of this story follows Colm Dwyer (Jared Abrahamson), son of local priest Seamus (Sean McGinley) and husband to Bridget (Hannah Emily Anderson). The couple has just buried a son, whose funeral is interrupted by Agatha transporting Audrey.

A formula develops out of these stories: There’s the poisoning, of course, which is almost a throwaway plot point for Lee (since we get no surrounding context of the father and husband who committed the act or his family), though chilling in the moment – particularly in how the wife, baffled by the appearance of this food on her plate, wolfs down the food with crazed abandon. There’s the slow turn for Buckley, which ends exactly how one would predict, and there’s the suffocating grief of Colm and Bridget, which seems to be turned a degree into something much darker. Finally, there’s Audrey, who remains a static character despite Reynolds’s performance, and Agatha, who disappears for long stretches. The Earnshaws, in other words, become less than supporting characters in their own story.

Quickly, it becomes clear that Lee has misplaced the center of this tale. It might be an interesting prospect to hang the proceedings ultimately on the peg that follows Colm and Bridget, who are blessed with another child under mysterious and mostly vague circumstances. It’s the “vague” part that gets The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw into trouble, though. This is primarily because Lee slowly but surely drains the specifics and significance from this story and replaces them with cheap scare tactics, some supernatural business that possibly involves witchcraft (though we can’t tell, because Lee’s screenplay is thoroughly opposed to explaining anything in detail), and a busy climax that only raises more questions while refusing to answers the ones we already had.

The Earnshaws become less than supporting characters in their own story.
50 %
Repetitive Scares
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