PUNCH *** UK 2023 Dir: Andy Edwards. 80 mins
A few years ago, I made it to Brighton for a brief vacation. Being a combination of a Rocker because I do enjoy rockabilly music and a Mod for scooters, and clothes and being a huge fan of The Who made me sort of an odd person. Not as odd as throughout the lovely hospitality, and trips to the locals no mention of the legend of Punch, a man who dispatches wayward teenage girls with a huge club.
Andy Edwards’s film Punch (2023) takes that simple idea, tosses in some elements of The Purge series, a sprinkle of plots from the sixties TV series The Avengers, and tops it with today’s feelings in some people towards the conduct of law enforcement especially with the revelations of the real horrors of officers doing wrong and you have an entertaining eighty minutes.
The film opens on a cliff with an odd prologue involving a hooded figure engaging in a blood-curdling scream. Frankie (Alina Allison) is a young woman who desperately wants to escape from her seaside hometown. Her family has a lot of baggage from a husband leaving suddenly as personified by her mother Julia (Kierston Wareing). Mother and daughter have a vicious dialogue session in their home reminiscent of some of the best of Coronation Street or the work of Director Mike Leigh.
Frankie decides to return to university and give it another shot so she gives herself one evening to say goodbye to her friends. But her bittersweet farewell soon turns into a nightmare when Mr. Punch shows up and starts murdering people on the seaside. Faye Campbell as Frankie’s best friend, Holly, wants to leave yet is trapped into being one of the old people doing meth or other things under the pier in fifty years. The two reminisce about simpler times till they run into a deranged old shouting man, The Harbinger (Daniel Fathers) who calls these two women ‘whores’ and imparts part of the legend of Punch. Genre favorite and underused Dani Thompson gets to sling drinks as a barmaid who imparts to Holly and Frankie the rest of legend before being interrupted by Frankie’s Mother and her councilman boyfriend Elton (Jamie Lomas).
The baseball bat-wielding Punch who speaks in an electronic high pitched voice with wisecracks similar to Freddy Krueger brings new meaning to the term ‘got a woody’ when he dispatches two drunk party women on the pier.
Punch (2023) plunges into the world of the illegal rave culture with Frankie meeting her old boyfriend Daryl (Macaulay Cooper). The bloodletting and the crunching of skulls begin with one of the film’s most inventive sequences of the masked Punch murdering people at the rave who are naked with glow paint on in slow motion.
The limited budget although with effective camera work in the arcades, amusement parks of the pier and nightscapes prevents the death scenes from being more staged which is a good thing or bad thing depending on how one views these films. Money plays a role in these films and frankly (or Frankie) the importance is the story, not the number of practical effects one sees in the Terrifier series. The latter part does become a formula with Mr. Punch stalking people and swinging for the fences.
To the film’s credit, it handles sexuality well with mentions of threesomes and other pleasures. Even a moment between Frankie and her reunited boyfriend Daryl is handled in a silly yet plausible, impaired moment. Independent film either ignores sex due to contract or budget for actors, inexperienced people in front of the camera or the film launches into some caricature of simulated or explicit moments. Punch (2023) handled this aspect of the characters’ world well because it’s going to happen in this story.
Punch (2023) has a distinctly British look and feel to it since it takes place in the English seaside town of Brighton. Strong characters that have the look of depressing dark clouds and radially in the faces that trap them in the bleak world. The cast all works well, with action, however, repetitive moving quickly towards an ending that perhaps you would not expect.
Review by Terry Sherwood
PUNCH is out now on Digital platforms including Amazon Prime Video in the UK courtesy of Miracle Media