- Director: Brandon Christensen
- Writer: Ryan Christensen
- Stars: Angel Prater, Kim Cyr, Anna Telfer, Cameron Wong
It’s October, Friday the 13th, 2023: what will you be watching? Shudder, as always, has lots of options, and they would like to tempt you with one of their newest acquisitions, The Puppetman. Coming off of a jury prize win for Best Feature Film at the Popcorn Frights Film Festival, writer/director Brandon Christensen also won this prize for his film Superhost in 2021. So, should you spend such a sacred evening watching something new or go back to Camp Crystal Lake for nostalgia sake?
Starring Alyson Gorske as Michal, she is an introverted college student who has very good reasons to be guarded and, generally, lacking trust. When she was young, her father killed her mom and he’s been on death row ever since. While Michal went through the foster system, her dad maintained his innocence, claiming that someone was controlling his body when he murdered his wife. Fast forward to now and dad is about to be put to death while Michal is suffering from sleepwalking episodes and generalized anxiety/paranoia. Could these things be related? Uh, duh.
Her roommate, Charlie (Angel Prater), romantic interest Danny (Kim Cyr) and token annoying couple, Jo (Anna Telfer) and Glenn (Cameron Wong) all make for an impossibly beautiful group of “outsiders” who just want to drink alcohol and enjoy a weekend without adults telling them what to do. Basically, all stereotypes are accounted for, and it does have to be noted that it’s super cool that they all have what, traditionally, sound like male names. These are all very progressive humans, and perhaps, that’s why it’s a tad difficult to believe the way they choose to behave when they learn of Michal’s secret history.
Charlie, who for all intents and purposes, seems like a supportive roommate, has actually been recording Michal when she sleepwalks and has even gone as far as to contact the local psychic about it. She also told everyone in the friend group and that ruins the trust between her and Michal. This will be what sets everything into motion and as the deaths begin to pile up, so does the disappointment.
There are so many interesting ideas at work in The Puppetman and all of the actors brought their A games, but the final product feels like someone took a Lifetime Movie Network filter to the entire project. No shade to Lifetime movies because they absolutely have their place in everyone’s entertainment schedule, but I wanted and expected more from Christensen.
Undoubtedly skilled at creating a very specific tone and aesthetic for his films, he does not falter with The Puppetman: it’s gray and somber with an air that feels heavy with something insidious, but outside of that, the deaths feel paint by number, Ruby (the psychic) is underutilized along with the backstory of the cult that Michal’s parents were a part of and, quite frankly, Michal isn’t nearly as angry as she should be about everything that is going on. The Puppetman has the story, the aesthetics and the actors committed to their roles, but, ultimately, it falls flat and is just this side of chilling. Unfortunately, you’re probably better off just going to Crystal Lake and watching Kevin Bacon get an arrow through the throat.
On Shudder October 13, 2023