Though Christensen’s The Puppetman will satisfy horror fans with its kills, the logic behind the entity fails to produce a satisfying conclusion.
As an avid horror film fan, October is by far my favorite time of the year to indulge in the genre. In honor of spooky season, a vast number of titles are added to streaming services in celebration of Halloween month. Among the soon-to-be-released titles is Brandon Christensen’s The Puppetman, which caught my attention as soon as I read the premise and saw the film’s eye-catching poster. Before his latest Shudder Original, Christensen produced three other horror features, so he’s no stranger to the genre.
During The Puppetman’s opening scene, the film takes no prisoners. Within two minutes, a gruesome event occurs that instantly creates mystery. After such an intense introduction, viewers will want to stick around to uncover the rationale behind the brutal incident. However, when the logic behind what pulls the strings comes to light—hence the title of the film—the reasoning fails to produce a satisfying conclusion.
Alyson Gorske plays college student and leading lady Michal, and the actress’ talent is on full display. The character’s father, David (played by the fantastic Zachary Le Vey, who gets limited screen time), is on death row, and his execution is fast approaching. He was convicted of murder many years ago, though maintains his innocence, claiming that his body was being controlled when the crime took place. Of course, everyone is skeptical of the inmate’s narrative, but as strange things happen to Michal, she wonders if her dad’s declaration may be valid.
Because of Michal’s past, viewers can sympathize with her after learning of a traumatic event that took place during her childhood, as the character’s likeability shines through. On the flip side, Gorske effortlessly transforms Michal into a frightening presence, and her ability to switch between a vulnerable demeanor and an unsettling one is impressive. Michal also has an adequate amount of character development, which keeps viewers invested in her story. Inversely, there’s a lack of unity and chemistry between the characters within the friend group, and by the time certain individuals meet their demise, it carries minimal impact. Gorske outshines the film as she has ample to give, though her talent can only go so far with the lackluster script presented.
After The Puppetman’s promising opening, the minutes drag, and little happens to hold the audience’s interest. Sequences involving sleepwalking and an overabundance of crows signify that an undesirable fate lies ahead, but they’re repetitive and the film is lacking in the suspense department.
When viewers learn what allows The Puppetman to pull the strings, so to speak, it results in more questions than answers. Now, the how and the why don’t always need to be explored in depth for a film to be effective. In fact, sometimes leaving those two key components unanswered can really stick the landing, as the mystery remains. However, when a film revolves around an entity whose origins get little explanation and fails to detail what its motivation is, and why certain characters were meddling in that world in the first place, there’s little payoff.
All is not lost, as The Puppetman provides some satisfying kills. I won’t get into spoilers, but there’s a particular sequence that is a standout. Regardless of Christensen’s background in VFX, I appreciated that most of the death scenes are created with practical effects, which add an extra layer of realness. I wouldn’t go as far as to say they’re creative, as similar ideas have been explored before, and The Puppetman clearly took some inspiration from The Final Destination franchise. That said, the film’s ability to use such effects enhances kill scenes and makes them memorable. It’s just unfortunate that the storytelling surrounding them isn’t the most thrilling.
The Puppetman will be available to watch on Shudder on October 13, 2023.