Another B-movie with big ambitions, The Puppetman contains an intriguing premise, but its half-baked execution erases most of the film's potential. The Puppetman takes inspiration from Nightmare on Elm Street and Final Destination but fails to make its own mark as a memorable addition to the horror genre. The film is confusing, and there is a wasted opportunity to establish an exciting new villain. With a title like The Puppetman, fans might think that the film would be a fun, cheesy time, but this movie is convoluted and dull, and it never manages to lean into its campy premise.
Directed by Brandon Christensen, The Puppetman follows Michal (Alyson Gorske), a college student whose father murdered her mother when she was a child. Michal's father claimed he was not in control of his own body when he committed the heinous murder. In the present day, Michal sleepwalks and experiences strange phenomena. When one of her friends is killed in a mysterious way, Michal realizes that her father may not have been lying all those years ago, and now, the same ailment may destroy those around her.
The Puppetman is competently made and has fairly crisp cinematography, but the screenplay is all over the place. The villain is never clearly established, causing all the film's events to end up feeling too vague to leave an impact. The central idea is interesting, but it isn't developed in an engaging way, and the film is too talky. The lead characters are all caricatures and feel more like potential victims than compelling characters. They also appear to be freshmen or sophomores in college, but the actors seem to be in their mid-twenties. The script does not develop these characters but expects the audience to root for them and be entertained by long sequences of them bantering.
Effective death scenes in this horror flick are few and far between. The Puppetman spends its time showcasing B-movie dialogue and unimaginative set pieces, so when the horror truly starts, it's too little too late. Toward the movie's climax, two kills play out simultaneously, and since this is one of the first major death sequences of the film, it feels rushed. And even though the scenes are gruesome, they would have been much more impactful if they were edited separately.
Instead of developing the central conflict throughout, The Puppetman jumps in several haphazard directions, becoming almost impossible to take seriously. Halfway through the film, A psychic character walks into the plot, further throwing off the narrative as a whole. The actual conflict of this film is still not fully clear since almost every idea is abandoned before coming to fruition. Even the ending of the film has the potential for a grisly final showdown, but that sadly never occurs.
Director Brandon Christensen has helmed several other Shudder originals, including Z and the solid Superhost. With The Puppetman, it's clear that Christensen wanted to create a clever take on the possession and slasher subgenres, but the script needed much more time to incubate. There is a solid movie in this story somewhere, but as it stands now, The Puppetman is a lackluster, derivative dud.
The Puppetman is now available on Shudder.