The Puppetman (2023) – SFFF Review
Closing out the first night of this year’s Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival, The Puppetman tossed me a nugget of nostalgia early in the film when the leads make a booze run and I recognized the upside down sign of Buffalo’s On the Rox Liquors, where many an eventful weekend of my own started.
But that doesn’t come until after we see a man (Zachary Le Vey, Run Hide Fight, How to Say Goodbye) brutally murder his wife while his young daughter cowers, caged in a dark closet. He seems to be struggling with himself as he beats her with a frying pan and stabs her. And that is his defence in court, it wasn’t him, someone or something else was controlling his body. It doesn’t get him acquitted, but it does get him a nickname, The Puppetman.
Years later his daughter Michal (Alyson Gorske, 616 Wilford Lane, Jungle Run) is a college student, and he’s about to be executed even though New York abolished the death penalty in 2004. Her roommate Charlie (Angel Prater, The Engagement Dress, Amy’s F**k It List) is worried about her, though. She’s starting to zone out and her sleepwalking has got worse. Unfortunately, before she can do anything about it, she walks off the roof of the dorm during a party.
It’s all a bit derivative to say the least, and unfortunately The Puppetman’s plot only gets more familiar from here. There’s a visit to a psychic (Caryn Richman, Beyond the Gates, Stalked by My Doctor) that gets out of control, the skeptical cop (Michael Paré, End of Loyalty, Deceived by My Mother-In-Law) how becomes a believer, Danny (Kio Cyr, Give Me An A, Attaway Central) the guy with the crush who steps up, the realization that something demonic is afoot, etc.
The Puppetman is another film that feels like its makers, in this case director Brandon Christensen (Superhost, Z) and his co-writers Brandon Christensen and Matt Manjourides (Troma Digital Studios: A Lesson in BrownRay) were working from a checklist of characters and story elements. I could pretty much guess how it was all going to play out, right down to the final image.
The same is true of the characters. Michal is given a backstory because she obviously needs one. The other characters are blank slates with a single character trait, and that’s only so the demon has something to use when it kills them. The kills are well staged and bloody, but they’re also unoriginal and predictable. The guy who is into working out suffers a fatal accident while bench pressing, someone tries to shoot Michal and ends up sticking the gun in their own mouth, you get the idea. It’s depressing that even with three writers, they couldn’t have come up with more original demises for the film’s characters.
The cast do what they can with what they have, but Gorske is the only one anything to work with, and she does her best to make the changes Michal goes through believable. Le Vey makes an effort as her imprisoned father and brings a bit of creepiness to a cliché part. The only other actor to have anything to work with, Cyr, does what he can as her would be protector Danny.
If you’re looking for something very competently and professionally put together with a couple of gory scenes to liven it up, The Puppetman will work, especially if you’re new to the genre. But most viewers will find the material way too familiar and the execution way too predictable.