Liffey (Kelly Reilly), a young architect arrives in a small north Ireland village along with her boyfriend Richard to renovate an old cottage. Not long after arriving, Liffey discovers, much to her shock, that she is pregnant. As it turns out, Liffey’s closest neighbor Mabs (Miranda Richardson) has been trying unsuccessfully to have another child. Upon hearing of Liffey’s pregnancy, the superstitious Mabs along with her sister Carol and witchcraft practicing mother Molly (Rita Tushingham) begin to believe that Liffey has stolen the baby Mabs has been trying so desperately to have, leading Molly to place a hex on Liffey and her unborn child.
Occasionally subtitled “The Devil’s Eyeball” on some releases, Puffball is an unusual, deeply unsettling film that, much like other Roeg films such as Don’t Look Now (1973), Eureka (1983) and Cold Heaven (1991) questions where mere superstition ends and the supernatural begins. Ripe with Pagan mysticism, witchcraft and several references to the Norse god Odin, otherworldly forces are plentiful throughout Puffball which Roeg plays around with masterfully, particularly as it relates to the psychological aspects of the film. Funnily enough, one of Roeg’s favorite subjects regarding the supernatural, telepathy and psychic ability, is mysteriously missing from this witches brew, however the bad magic utilized in the film certainly has a mental component to it. Roeg even manages to squeeze in some slight hints of reincarnation as well. Right from the opening credits Roeg establishes a mood of uneasiness which permeates the entire film thanks in no small part to the northern Irish locations. Naturally gorgeous, the area also possesses an undeniable mystic quality making it equally ominous as it is beautiful and Roeg wasting none of its potential. Roeg also sustains a sense of dread throughout through various technical techniques, namely sound design which at times is almost Lynchian with its disquieting drones, taking any seemingly “normal” scenario and making it oddly threatening. Some interesting editing and use of slow motion also make an already off-center and eerie feeling film downright terrifying in parts and the frightening presence of Rita Tushingham as the witchy Molly takes the film into nightmarish territory at times.