Puppet Killer (2021)

Director: Lisa Ovies

Running Time: 83 Minutes

Certification: 18

Starring: Aleks Paunovic, Lee Majdoub, Lisa Durupt, Richard Harmon, Gigi Saul Guerrero, Kyle Cassie, Geoff Gustafson

Opening on a familiar scene, a young child receives a beloved item from a parent at Christmas. In this case, it's the mother's childhood puppet. Things become less familiar as the family watches a horror movie together, with the mother reasoning that one's never too young for good movies. It becomes a festive family tradition to watch gory movies, although this winds down after the mother's passing. As time flies, a domineering and bullying figure has filled the step-mother role, and the family assume she's run off after an argument breaks out. Little do they know she's been murdered by an unseen figure.

Flashforward to ten-years later, and Jamie (Aleks Paunovic) is now a teenager haunted by his past. With a group of high-school friends, they celebrate Christmas at Jamie's old house isolated within the woods, where a horror-movie obsessed killer stalks them.

Earlier in 2021, Dear Evan Hansen took social media by storm with the eponymous teenager distractingly played by a visibly older Ben Platt. Credit where it's due, the 28-year old Platt resembles a high-school student more than the 30-to-50 year-olds cast here as teens. It's especially jarring when a ten-year gap sees single-digit aged Jamie transition to being a high-schooler played by a 52-year old. It's impossible to take seriously the character talking about graduating when he looks the right age for a prostate exam.

It doesn't help how intolerable these childish characters are to be around, relegated to tired clich├ęs with as much depth as a paddling pool. Perhaps a more effective tale would've been following adults trying to recapture their lost youth, adding an undercurrent to the combative brothers and the overly-sexual couple. Instead, it feels like the most obvious game of "spot the undercover cop".

A recurring point is made regarding the healthiness of an interest with horror movies, an element which results in nothing of interest. It seems to lean towards an anti-horror sentiment as Jamie's warnings are dismissed as the genre affecting his mental health, while the murderous puppet is obsessed with making horror references. Despite this, there's attempts at meta-humour and a random appearance by horror filmmakers the Soska sisters which feels out of place with the aforementioned sentiment. Further confusion comes when characters loudly declare their horror knowledge and address genre conventions, only to fall prey to a common trope they should've avoided.

Perhaps the most damning thing is how this perfect opportunity for comedy is played in the most po-faced way possible. It's troubling when the film resembles Wet Hot American Summer meets Child's Play, yet there's nothing actually funny within. The parts are there for something playful, yet the final product seems embarrassed by the genre and is embarrassing to be in the company of.

Puppet Killer is available on Digital Download now