Mr Punch, the end-of-the-pier poster boy for spousal abuse, is such a bizarre fixture of the UK entertainment scene – like the pantomime dame, almost impossible to explain to non-Brits – that it’s a wonder Andy Edwards is the first to pitch him as a masked slasher movie villain … the few other horrors that have touched on the theme (the short That’s the Way to Do It) have gone with the mad puppeteer notion rather than have a hooded thug prowl an out-of-season seaside town with a mask and a baseball bat (Punch is so British, I’m presuming it’s a rounders bat) bludgeoning layabout youths. It’s a batter movie rather than a slasher movie, which gives it a not-uninteresting nasty edge but also means this inclines to grim, downbeat, mean-spirited despair rather than indulge in the seamy creepiness of funfairs or bygone children’s amusements the way that, say, The Funhouse does.
A patchwork of South-East coast locations combine to depict a credibly left-behind, decaying resort – a few topical asides about shit in the water tie the state of the town to the state of the nation – which Frankie (Alina Allison) has escaped from to go to uni, abandoning her resentful friends, but been dragged back to by a whiny, sham invalid mother (Kierston Wareing). On a long night, Punch offs a lot of people – with hints that he might be part of a larger movement, in which oppression of the young by the old or the marginalised by the affluent is involved … though there’s little of the anarchist spirit of the traditional puppet here, even if a policeman does get bludgeoned and a crocodile mask and some sausages are significant props. It’s kind of a downer, but performances are fine – possibly, it’s laying the groundwork for a more ambitious follow-up.