Frightfest Halloween: Benny Loves You (2020)

Karl Holt

Running Time: 94 Minutes

Starring: Karl Holt, Claire Cartwright, George Collie, James Parsons, Anthony Styles, Darren Benedict, Lydia Hourihan, David Wayman

Since the year 2000, London Frightfest has made a name for itself among genre film festivals. Something they do so well is giving first-time filmmakers a platform, with their successful First Blood strand. One of this year's entries was from Karl Holt, expanding on his 2006 short, where one man's growth is compounded by a stuffed figure from his childhood. If Toy Story 3 was mixed with a slasher film, this would be the bonkers end result.

After the accidental death of his parents, Jack (Karl Holt) is forced to sell his family home, and start a new life. He begins cleaning out the family belongings, including his beloved childhood bear, Benny. Not a fan of Jack's plans, Benny springs to life with one goal in mind; protecting Jack however possible, even if the solution is murder.

From top to bottom, Karl Holt inhabits this story, as he writes, directs, and plays the lead role. A 35-year old man who suffers from arrested development, Jack's gotten complacent with his life. He's coasting through his job of designing toys, has no interest in finding his own place, and his bedroom doesn't seem to have changed in about 25 years. Holt captures the disinterest within Jack, while never relegating him to something paper-thin and whiny. He's just somebody lacking any drive, who's forced to adapt when his life drastically changes.

While Jack attempts to move forward with his life, he's pulled back into familiarity by a living reminder of his past. With apologies to Sam from Trick 'r Treat, Benny must be the most adorable murderer put to film. He may say few words, but it's plain to see he justifies his actions through some warped logic. His vicious choices are motivated by love, and a need to look out for his friend. But, like an old friend who you realise is toxic, there comes a time when you must let go of somebody who once defined your past. In spite of this, we're made to feel a bit sorry for Benny, even after he commits murder. There's something about this serial killer hiding behind a cushion, while he watches horror films, that makes him so endearing.

In spite of his adorable look, Holt's direction contrasts it with the trail of terror Benny wreaks. At first, we see the aftermaths of his kills, utilised as grisly moments which Jack comedically reacts to. As the film continues, his vengeance is captured in more gruesome detail, and peaks with a blood-soaked rampage against countless innocents. That's not to diminish what comes after, when Benny tackles his goals with more determination, but it's hard to top such a gleefully gruesome high-point. At its heart, this is a film that proudly displays its references, while showing how dangerous the title character can be, and never forgetting to have fun with it.

Unfortunately, there are a few elements which don't work as well. Among the supporting cast are a duo of police officers, who keep checking in with Jack. They're brought alive with a pair of committed performances, but feel taken from a different film. There are also noticeable budgetary limitations, including a glaring part involving a deceased animal. None of these issues detract from the film's strengths, which are best exemplified in a tremendous sequence, where a potential buyer decrying Jack's house is intercut with the gruesome aftermath. The charming mixture of grisly humour and a macabre sense of humour, with a relatable tale about growing up, highlights Karl Holt as one to watch out for.