“That’s the way to do it” screeches the films titular slasher as he stalks a would be victim along the promenade of a dreary UK seafront. In some respects Andy Webster’s ‘Punch’ sort of does, but ultimately it perhaps shares more in common with modern folk horrors than contemporary slashers.
The plot of the movie, as you would probably expect, centres around a murderous individual taking on the persona of the classic sea-side ‘Punch’ puppet knocking off anyone unfortunate enough to encounter him. Touted by locals as an urban legend, Mr Punch prowls the seafront looking for any of the local dross and delinquent to beat to death with his iconic bat. This year he seems to have chosen a young girl named Frankie as his intended quarry as she prepares to leave the town for University.
As the film opens there’s a fair amount to impress. There is a sad honesty to the film’s depiction of the near derelict sea-front town. Clearly past its peak, the towns nostalgic ‘hey-day’ landmarks overshadowed by the declining town centre with its boarded-up windows and ailing storefronts.
The towns inhabitants don’t fare much better, and whilst I’ll accept that ‘Punch’ slams as many negative stereotypes into the sea-front’s limited square footage, there is a lot of relatable characters in this movie – for better, for worse.
Even before the film gets going its visuals, grading and general atmosphere gives the film its identity and prior to the films ‘Mr Punch’ antagonist is introduced there’s clearly a lot of thought been given to the film’s identity.
As the film progresses its clear that the films gritty depiction of UK seaside life isn’t limited to its geography. The characters, even the ones we’re supposed to be routing for, partake in all manner of illicit activities, all under the guise of one big final blow out. Given the drug use, almost continuous slew of vulgar slang and expletives and less than flattering sexual suggestiveness its not always clear whether Webster is trying to depict an exaggerated edgy ‘street-real’ depiction of UK life, or he’s offering us one hell of a pessimistic social critique – either way, it certainly offers a decent backdrop for ‘Mr Punch’s’ murderous antics.
And murder he does, although depending on what you’re expecting here, the slashing element of this slasher might actually be the films weakest component.
As with the rest of the film’s aesthetics ‘Mr Punch’ looks half decent. He might be little more than a thug with a bat, but he’s still ominous enough given the films context. As you’d expect, he’s a bit of a character, cracking one liners and offering some decent set-pieces as he taunts his victims whilst building to his crescendo.
Sadly, these ‘crescendos’ are somewhat limited in scope as he essentially beats each of his victims with the bat, often bloodless, and at times even off camera. There’s no doubt that this film is brutal though.
Its brash, harshly edited and the loud distortions within the sound effects help to make these scenes more impactful than the slightly tame visuals would demand in isolation. I think if you were just wanting an authentic British slasher, you wouldn’t be disappointed, however expect something akin to ‘Terrifier’ and you’re likely to feel a little short changed as the gore and violence in this movie pales in comparison to that, and any number of other modern day slashers.
The intent is there, and even much of the setup, I just felt to really hit as hard as ‘Mr Punch’ swings, that the movie needed to up the violence to back up its posturing.
Overall, however, ‘Punch’ is still very much worth a watch, especially if you’re wanting something very ‘British’. Whilst admittedly not in content, the film reminded me very much of the authenticity of films similar to ‘The Droving’ – Punch’s own ‘twist’ conclusion probably helped my mind go there. It’s certainly strong enough to recommend alongside other recent slasher movies, given the aforementioned considerations.