Feel as though you are running through a fairytale-like forest and countryside town with Mirrah Foulkes’ medieval soap opera, Judy & Punch. For what is ultimately a revenge tale, this film may be a bit of a slow-burner in reaching that point, however, along the way the audience is built up with murder, the ills of societal mob-thinking, and magick and witchcraft. Based off of the comedic tragedy of a popular minstrel show, Punch & Judy, Mirrah Foulkes gives this source material a feminist update, righting the story by adding a hefty dash of revenge.
Director Mirrah Foulkes, who also wrote the screenplay, crafted a world in a time removed with characters that are both lovable, and ones that you love to hate. Somewhere in a countryside but nowhere near the sea, the citizens of a town called Seaside trudge through life in the Middle Ages, small-minded and entertained by brutality. The least gruesome form of brutal entertainment is a “smash-y” puppet show, helmed by husband Punch (Damon Herriman) and wife Judy (Mia Wasikowska). A seemingly happy couple though one with brutal entertainment at their home in the form of Punch’s drunken rages, one day, Punch’s alcoholism leads him to lose their newborn baby. Judy is seemingly also lost to his rage, however, a fringe group of former villagers nurse her back to health within their forested encampment, giving Judy a second chance at life, and settling the score.
From the beginning, low string cellos set to an upbeat tempo instill an eerie but adventurous tone for Judy & Punch; the quirky music may falsely allude to a family-friendly romp, but the story gets darker as it unfolds. Innocent lives are lost early on, and descent into accusations of witchcraft and the trappings of an (approximately) 1600s patriarchal society result in a surprisingly macabre narrative. I think this is a good movie to watch once — it had all of the right elements to build a feminist bonfire with momentum from a scorned Mia Wasikowska’s performance, but the end fizzles out, unsatisfyingly slowed by a wall of exposition. Don’t fret, it is not another The Brothers Grimm (2005) or Gretel and Hansel (2020), thank goodness, and for it being the feature debut of its director, Judy & Punch is an all-around high-quality, original, and entertaining movie.
I was pleasantly surprised to see Mia Wasikowska (Stoker, Crimson Peak), who, as always, displayed her talent of fully engrossing herself in any world that she is put into. Were it not for the quirky music and the somewhat contemporary-sounding lingo, this move might have been more transportive, as Punch & Judy‘s acting, costuming, as well as the film’s dreary cinematography was spot on. My only real issue with the film is that it seems to have taken one of the most famous and best cinema lines of all time, one from Maximus’ speech in Gladiator (2000), which, along with the preachy exposition, somewhat sullied the energy going into the end of the film. The climax itself was otherwise badass and resolutive, complete with random Matrix moves and all.
Feeling like something born of Monty Python and The Holy Grail meeting in a forest with Joe Egger’s The VVitch, Mirrah Foukes’ Judy & Punch is one multilayered and unique film with an interesting tone of modernity mixed with an atmosphere of antiquity. The film’s social satire draws an uneasy comparison to present times, where society seems divided with backward people versus progressives. Though the mixed styling of modern music and old-world setting may clash at times, these elements give Judy & Punch a character of its own, one that has a sharp-toothed sense of humor with an intensely morbid and dark worldview. It was quite a ride, one that I highly recommend taking once it is released June 5th to VOD (and possibly theaters) by Samuel Goldwyn Films.
MOVIE RATING — 7 out of 10 ☠️
|Judy and Punch|
|Runtime:||1hrs. 20 Mins.|