It’s a tale as old as time: a group of horny and rambunctious teenagers escape to a cabin in the woods for a weekend of drinking, drugs, and debauchery, only to be picked off one by one by a deadly predator. The slasher genre in the 1980s was fuelled by this set-up. 2012’s Cabin in the Woods, a sly send-up of the archetypal story, subverted it. And, in 2019, Lisa Ovies’s feature debut Puppet Killer (2019) will cut the strings securing it to any conceivable reality.
Our protagonist is Jamie (Aleks Paunovic), a high school student with a love of horror movies and a troubled past: he lost his mother at a young age and believes that his childhood puppet murdered his resentful stepmother. Rounding out his crew of friends are love interest Jessie (Lisa Durupt), weed aficionado Curtis (Lee Majdoub), secretly-insecure jock Rick (Richard Harmon), Rick’s sexy girlfriend Brooke (Gigi Saul Guerrero), and Curtis’s sullen goth brother Lee (Kyle Cassie). Looking for a reprieve from the stresses of high school classes and adolescent drama, the group venture to the isolated cabin where Jamie’s stepmother was last seen alive. As Jamie attempts to come to terms with his past trauma, his friends are forced to consider the answer to a very unsettling question: is Jamie losing his mind…or are they all going to lose their lives?
The first thing you’ll notice about Puppet Killer is its casting: while the core group of weekenders are ostensibly adolescents (and shown attending high school during the first act), the cast are for the most part in their 30s, at minimum. But this isn’t a Beverly Hills, 90210 or Jawbreaker (1999) situation, where we’re meant to believe grown adults are credible teenagers. The casting decision is a deliberate wink to the audience and the cast play up the joke, digging into their respective age-inappropriate subgenre stereotypes with relish. Their enjoyment is contagious; the first half of the film is a great deal of fun, laying out some solid groundwork for the inevitable slaughter and serving up a hearty helping of self-aware humour. The madcap antics of the rest of the cast are grounded by Paunovic’s hilariously earnest turn as Jamie; the ultimate straight man in a maelstrom of utter and complete nonsense. As additional characters are added to the story (while others fall victim to the film’s instantly-iconic villain), the narrative does lose a bit of its focus but manages to hold it all together until its bonkers (if slightly predictable) climax.
If you’re looking for a good time tomorrow evening, I recommend checking out Puppet Killer, the opening film at this year’s Blood in the Snow Film Festival. It screens at 9:30 pm at The Royal Cinema in Toronto and tickets are available for purchase here.
Small note: Harmon’s “Rick” is the ornery one, and Cassie’s “Lee” is the jock!