Now here’s a cinematic curio: a new take on a troubling classic fairy tale, one that attempts to align it with the #MeToo generation. Director Mirrah Foulkes makes her directorial debut with this evocative intoxicating folk tale that can’t quite hold itself together to stick its landing.
Set in the town of Seaside (nowhere near the sea and all in all an unpleasant place to be) the film follows puppeteers Judy and Punch as they seek fame and an escape from the place they call home. However, a terrible incident tears the couple apart and sets them on separate paths that threaten to destroy their world.
For the first act, Judy & Punch is a magnificent watch. Foulkes crafts a fascinating world, with her film bounding along at a terrific pace. Her work feels the closest to a successful cinematic adaptation of Angela Carter, with the director just about managing to balance dark laughs and a deconstruction of gender. All is going well until the terrible incident, which is brilliantly staged but manages to throw the film off balance. Momentum slows as the film rebuilds itself and sadly becomes a less satisfying whole. But it is still an intriguing watch and one of the year’s most exciting debuts.
At the film’s centre is a pair of fascinating turns. Mia Wasikowska’s Judy is a heartfelt creation, with the performer bringing warmth and rage in equal measures, even if the narrative doesn’t quite find the necessary complexity the character needs. Damon Herriman’s Punch is a repugnant figure, but a fascinating one, with the second half of the film giving the beastly character a depth that is unexpected. The rest of the ensemble play their parts well, but the script rarely expands beyond a basic two-dimensional portrayal.
The real stars here are Josephine Ford’s production design, pairing well with Edie Kurzer’s costumes and Adele Flere’s art direction. The world of Seaside is a fabulously crafted one thanks to their work. The film has a gorgeous look, thanks to Stefan Duscio’s cinematography and a score from François Tétaz that haunts the film, propelling the key moments. Foulkes is a director to watch out for, with Judy & Punch acting mostly as an engaging calling card. The film may not be an entire success, with little matching its brilliant first act, but it is certainly one that intrigues and lingers long after the credits roll.