Whenever you start a horror movie you know that most of the cast are going to meet a grizzly fate. Death is part of the genre, and whether it comes at the hand of a monster, a spirit, or human hands, there are very few horror films that don’t at some point start bumping characters off. The Puppetman absolutely does this, with the opening scene of the film being a murder. But where it at least tries to do things a little differently is that in this film the people who kill others or themselves have no control over their actions, resulting in a story where anyone can die at any moment.
The film begins with a murder, a man (Zachary Le Vey) coming home from work to greet his loving wife who’s busy cooking dinner. Except as he steps through the door he freezes up, unable to move or even speak. His body moves outside of his control, grabbing a knife off the kitchen counter, which is then used to stab his wife to death as he frantically tries to scream, barely forcing out the words “it’s not me”. Jumping forward in time, the man is now locked up in prison awaiting execution, known as The Puppetman due to his insistence that something was making him kill his wife, and that he acted outside of his control.
His daughter, Michal (Alyson Gorske) has shared her father’s story with her college roommate Charlie (Angel Prater) as he re-enters the news cycle thanks to his looming execution. Despite having been sworn to secrecy, Charlie seems to have become obsessed with Michal’s story, and even urges her to go and see her father before he dies, claiming that it might help Michal to deal with her repressed trauma; trauma that seems to be manifesting in strange incidents of sleepwalking. When the two of them are gathered together for a rooftop party with their friends Glenn (Cameron Wong), Jo (Anna Telfer), and Danny (Kio Cyr), it comes out that Charlie has told her boyfriend about Michal’s past.
As the two of them argue about it Charlie freezes up, a look of panic on her face, before she walks backwards over the edge of the roof, dropping to her death. Michal now believes that whatever force may have compelled her father to kill her mother all those years before has returned, and that she and her friends may be in danger. The four of them will have to get to the bottom of things with the help of a local psychic, Ruby (Caryn Richmanv), before they fall victim to this force.
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The Puppetman is an occasionally creepy movie, with some scenes that try to introduce tension into them, but for the most part it feels more akin to something like a Final Destination movie than your average supernatural horror. With the evil force that’s following Michal able to take control of anyone at any moment and force them to kill themselves or others there’s the constant wait for something to happen, like in Final Destination, and you’re constantly looking at where the characters are and what they’re doing, waiting to see how things could be used to do them in. And this does prove itself to be true more than once as the film throws a few elaborate and gory deaths at you across its run time.
Despite this, it never really feels like it enters the realm of scary. If anything, it feels more like a mystery. You want to know why these things are happening, what this entity is and why it’s sticking with Michal. This mystery is the main reason to stick with the movie, and is at times relatively interesting. The movie does also throw a couple of scenes in that are close to being ridiculous, but manage to not stray into farcical and remain entertaining. There’s interesting stuff to be found in the movie, but nothing that I think will really stick in your head after watching.
The film has some nice moments of atmosphere, the snowy, deserted college campus during the holidays feels cold and remote, with our core group of characters feeling like they’re the only ones there. The winter setting, for whatever reason, feels well suited for the film, and even the dark night scenes are somewhat bright with the big splashes of white from the snow helping to break up what would otherwise possibly be blank and stale locations. The film’s music is also nice in places, and has an eerie, almost haunting quality that works really well in the quieter moments in the first half of the film.
The Puppetman is a film that feels like it’s trying to do things a little differently, yet also seems to be sticking to some very expected horror conventions. It feels like it’s trying to play it safe, that it’s not pushing any boundaries or expectations, and as such kind of comes out feeling fairly average. Whilst this means that there’s nothing egregiously wrong with it, it also means that it’s the kind of movie that I’m going to forget within a day or two.
The Puppetman debuts on 13th October on Shudder.