Feminist Delinquents Face Ghosts — and Macbeth — in Creepy ‘A Haunting in Cawdor’


“What’s done cannot be undone,” Lady Macbeth discovers and repeats in Phil Wurtzel’s effective psychological thriller A Haunting in Cawdor — a truth encapsulating what it means to live anguished by the deeds of one’s past.

Shelby Young stars as Vivian, a troubled young woman who has spent six years in juvie for a murky crime she cannot shake from her soul. As part of a work-release program intended to rehabilitate delinquents, she soon arrives at the tightly run Cawdor Barn Theatre, inadvertently unleashing supernatural forces connected to a decades-old performance of the Scottish Play.

Occasionally reminiscent of the un-gory aspects of Argento’s classic Suspiria, Wurtzel’s film finds horror in its arts-center setting and the unique circumstances surrounding Vivan’s stay there. Cary Elwes, at once self-serious and avuncular, radiates mystery as the Cawdor’s director, a failed former Broadway hit-maker who appears to genuinely believe in theater as behavioral therapy for wayward teens. In fact, some of the best dialogue comes from the philosophical meditations between him and Vivian, his appointed Lady Macbeth, on how acting can be used to work through aggression and trauma.

Although the film attempts to be both a ghastly giallo mood piece and a bloodless teen ghost story, its themes of evolving identity and mental health care elevate it past some of its shock-and-awe trappings. Despite some clunky plotting and staging, A Haunting in Cawdor has the raw, grassroots makings of a feminist cult favorite in the vein of John Fawcett’s 2000 werewolf folktale Ginger Snaps. Few other reflections of the play dare ignore the king’s arc entirely, but here, refreshingly, Lady Macbeth’s — and Vivian’s — spiral into oblivion takes center stage.

A Haunting in Cawdor
Directed by Phil Wurtzel
Opens March 11, Cinema Village