Review: Judy & Punch

Last Updated on July 30, 2021

PLOT: In this fictionalized origin story, the puppeteering team of Punch and Judy try to resurrect their popular marionette show. However, consumption and local mob mentality prove to be problematic for the couple.

REVIEW: One of the most satisfying ways to watch a film is by stepping in completely blind. Aside from the cast, I was unfamiliar with the plot and story of the dark comedy, JUDY & PUNCH. The only thing that I did have is the knowledge of the famous puppets named in the film's title. Yet the new feature is not a biographical tale. Instead, it's a frenzied and pitch-black tale of revenge and retribution. Making her feature film directorial debut, Mirrah Foulkes tells a creepily fanciful tale about a puppeteer and his talented wife. Featuring Damon Herriman (who portrayed Charles Manson both in the Netflix series Mindhunter, as well as Tarantino's acclaimed ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD), Mia Wasikowska and Benedict Hardie, this compelling work takes a very dark and demented turn early on. While there is certainly humor, it's filled with a delicate balance of misery and pain.

Judy (Wasikowska) and Punch (Herriman) are used to performing in small theatres. Oh, but what a show they put on. And while Judy gives much of the attention to her husband, it's her talent that makes it work. One issue complicating their relationship is his excessive alcohol consumption. Even still, Judy is a loving soul and carries much of the weight that her husband fails to do. Things get especially complicated after she leaves her husband to tend to their baby while she goes out to pick up supplies. Instead of listening to his wife, he has a few drinks and brings tragedy to their household. And instead of making it better, he takes his anger out on Judy. Left for dead, she is cared for by a group of heretics afraid of the constant and brutal judgment of witchcraft. Along with her newly found family, Judy plans for a bit of revenge on the man she once loved.

Judy & Punch, Mia Wasikowska, Damon Herriman, Mirrah Roulkes, fairytale, puppets, dark comedy

As mentioned, watching this fascinating film without any idea of what was to come made for a very satisfying watch. Foulkes creates an atmospheric, near fairytale approach to the material. With its lively opening as "Punch" and "Judy" take the stage, it becomes instantly engaging. Having not watched any of the trailers, the tonal twist that comes near midway through is quite shocking. What begins as a quirky character tale of two puppeteers soon becomes a disturbing tale of mob mentality with a horrific twist. While this is a gorgeously shot film, there's heavy use of shadow and darkness that is slightly frustrating and a bit too dark early on. Even still, that is rarely a problem as the story progresses. Once the feature opens up to the kindred souls that Judy discovers, there is a brightness and light. Along with cinematographer Stefan Duscio, Mirrah's vision is an striking one.

As impressive as the film looks, the casting of both Wasikowska and Herriman was an inspired choice. Successfully playing Charles Manson twice, Herriman is fantastic as Punch. His desperate need to become famous, and his obsession with booze makes for an intriguing villain. He is colorful, energetic and cruel. Instead of simply playing a victim, Wasikowska effortlessly gives Judy strength and fight. Her transition from understanding spouse to a woman hell-bent on revenge is a joy to watch. In one especially telling moment early on in the film, Judy attempts to convince her husband that the show is getting a bit too "punchy" and "smashy." This is a clear premonition as to how complicated their relationship is about to get. The two actors play off each other perfectly. Cosidering both are so charismatic, it works especially well as the story begins escalating to one shocking sequence that is undeniably devastating.

Judy & Punch, Mia Wasikowska, Damon Herriman, Mirrah Foulkes, puppets, dark comedy, revengeAdding to this fine feature is the unique score by François Tétaz. The use of music here is especially exciting and unique. While the soundtrack is filled with versions of classical composers, he recreates these familiar pieces and adds an electronic edge that echoes throughout the film. As well, there are a couple of well-placed songs including a perfectly haunting tune from Leonard Cohen. Together, with the cold yet sublime colors and visuals that Foulkes creates, it becomes a compelling experience to take in. Creating a fictionalized origin story, the filmmakers offer a modern fairytale, one that is bleak yet brutally funny at times. While never gruesome, there are a couple of bloody moments that add that extra layer of twisted glee.

JUDY & PUNCH is an impressive first feature for Mirrah Foulkes. The exploration of the lure of fame and the horrors of mob rule makes for an enjoyable watch. It's exciting to see Damon Herriman get the chance to take on this partucular leading role, and he brings a perfect mix of vulnerable, tortured artist and a man who'll do anything to save himself. While I've been impressed with Mia Wasikowska many times before, this is a fantastic take on a woman scorned, and she is perfect for the role. This tale of revenge is handled with an assuredness without beating the audience down on the head with its point. There is plenty of punchy and smashy to entertain a modern audience looking for a dark comedy with a satisfying slice of revenge.

Revenge

GREAT

8
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Source: JoBlo.com

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JimmyO is one of JoBlo.com’s longest-tenured writers, with him reviewing movies and interviewing celebrities since 2007 as the site’s Los Angeles correspondent.