“Punch” (2023) [Pigeon Shrine FrightFest]

by Joseph Perry and Mike Imboden

In our “The Good, the Bad, and the Verdict” film reviews, Joseph and Mike give their thoughts on a slice of cinema. For this installment, it’s the UK slasher Punch by Andy Edwards.

Before returning to university, Frankie wants one last night out in her coastal hometown. But it's not just friends, family and ex-boyfriends that don't want to see her leave... Local bogeyman Mr. Punch is stalking the town and knows just the way to do it.  As the carnage escalates, Frankie and friends must fight to stay alive in this seaside-gothic, end-of-the-pier slasher.

The Good
Joseph: I’m somewhat of a hard sell on stalk ‘n’ slash movies, but Punch is the type of film in that subgenre that rises above the crop for me. There has been a recent spate of masked-killer movies whose villains had no real reason to wear a mask other than that the filmmakers likely wanted to pay tribute to the baddies they grew up watching and admiring, but Edwards provides a sound reason why his killer dons a Punch mask. Although puppets and puppetry are often nowadays considered as family-friendly entertainment, history shows that this wasn’t always the case, and the Punch puppet character has always had a mean streak, so this iconic character is a solid one around which to build a modern-day villain. This also gives the proceedings a uniquely British take on the cinematic subgenre, along with its seaside setting. Allison is terrific as the lead protagonist and nails everything asked of her as her character is put through the wringer. 

Mike: I love slasher movies and the logline of Punch had me sold.  When I saw that Edwards had said there were no “[British] iconic slasher villains like Freddie, Jason, [or] Michael Myers”, I built up a bit of a preconception, wanting this to succeed at fixing that cinematic oversight.  Of course, THAT in and of itself set off an internal warning that maybe I wouldn’t look at this objectively and give this unwarranted high marks. Thankfully, none of that mattered because Edwards delivers a film with characters that felt real, with real concerns, real problems, real relationships, and - the reason we’re all here - real dangers to face. 
Frankie has a lot to juggle and sort out - from a mother who’s certainly no June Cleaver, to her feelings of what she feels she owes, and in turn is owed, when it comes to loyalty to family, friends, and hometown - and believe it that the seaside tourist town that is Frankie’s home just might be the second most important character in the film.
Mr. Punch himself is a superb slasher villain (although instead of slasher maybe it’s more apropos to call him a “basher”), throwing out one-liners like Freddy, appearing menacingly from the shadows like Michael, and taking a few shots just to give one like Jason often does. 

The Bad
Joseph: The sound design on Punch’s voice made it difficult for me to understand some of what he was saying, which is a problem because the character is heavy on the one-liners and riddles. I realize that Edwards was attempting to replicate the “swazzle” sound — made by a device that puppeteers use to give Punch’s voice its traditional screeching vocalization — and although the vocal effects didn’t take away from my overall enjoyment of the film, I feel that I did miss some wicked zingers.

Mike:  This is clearly a slasher BY British folks FOR British folks.  Not that I mean that that itself is bad, but I feel like - as an American - some of the subtleties and nuances that Edwards has no doubt layered throughout Punch were lost on me which might have made me enjoy the film even more. I also knew very little of Mr. Punch, having only heard of “Punch and Judy” but never seeing any iteration of it and so it wasn’t until I did a little homework after watching the film did I fill in a lot of gaps and found a lot more of the film making sense.  None of that is really a “Bad” aspect and really just sort of shines a light on some of my own ignorance (which I hope doesn’t translate to the stereotypical “self-absorbed American”).
In all honesty, aside from a couple of edits and a few instances of some pacing that made some scenes feel rushed or mildly confusing, I didn’t really key in on anything from a technical perspective that would be considered bad. 

The Verdict
Joseph: Fans of slasher franchises and anyone who enjoys quality independent horror outings should place Punch on their need-to-see lists. The film provides a nice amount of mystery and is by no means short on jaw-dropping violence. It’s helmed by a writer/director who clearly knows his way around a horror story, and who is aided by a solid cast and talented practical effects crew.

Mike:  Edwards lamented that there was no iconic British slasher but I think, if Punch finds the audience it needs and deserves, that will no longer be the case.  Much of the atmosphere and attitude will resonate far more with Brits than it will with those not familiar with the seaside towns and the history of “Punch and Judy”. While that shouldn’t be a turn off, it’s not a stretch to expect some folks to lean that way which would be a shame because they’d be missing out on one of the best slasher flicks to come along since Terrifier gave Art the Clown his own starring vehicle.

Punch screened as part of the 2023 Pigeon Shrine FrightFest, which ran August 24–28 in London. For more information, visit https://frightfest.co.uk/.

Punch will make its digital and VOD debut on January 22nd, 2024

Directed By: Andy Edwards
Written By: Andy Edwards
Starring: Alina Allison, Kierston Wareing, Jamie Lomas, Faye Campbell
Run Time: 1h 20m
Rating:  NR
Release Date: 2023