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  • Colin Fraser


FOUR STARS Judy and Punch are the artistic force behind a touring puppet show, a coupling that doesn't end well.

Damon Herriman, Mia Wasikowska


In the 17th century hamlet of Seaside, ironically situated nowhere near the ocean, there are two forms of entertainment: the frequent stoning of heretics and a violent puppet show performed by the talented Judy (Mia Wasikowska) and her alcoholic husband, Punch (Damon Herriman). Naturally, their show is something of a hit in a conservative town desperately in need of distraction from the ever present threat of witches.

Thus the frame is set for Mirrah Faulkes’ jet-black comedy which opens with a sausage stealing dog and a bumbling policeman. Matters shift quickly from bad to terrible when the couple’s attempt to get noticed by a talent scout fail, Punch takes his name too literally and their baby gets thrown without bathwater. Judy seeks revenge and finds support from a band of forest dwelling outcasts who fear the townsfolk would otherwise line them up at the next stoning session.

There’s an element of The League of Gentlemen with a hint of Monty Python about these absurdly grotesque goings on, particularly the violent undercurrent that laces Faulkes’ hold on humour. Whether you’ll embrace it, particularly once the baby plays its scene, is up for grabs. Some festival showings saw walkouts yet most audiences remained, drawn by the film’s commentary about domestic abuse through its daring narrative, vivid production and the star power of its leads. Herriman is a standout though Wasikowska is no slouch, while Tom Budge is at his creepy, unnerving best as the town’s mayor.

There are wobbles in tone as JUDY AND PUNCH shifts its gears, moving from broad gestures at the start then changing down to a more concentrated, darker and bleaker comedy by story’s end. However it’s also a film that, unlike the hapless policeman, succeeds in grabbing you by the collar, and you’ll be glad it did. It’s easy to say they don’t make films like this anymore, but clearly they do. They simply don’t do it very often. So make the most of this opportunity to witness a film that, for better or worse and it’s often both, is uniquely extraordinary, and extraordinarily unique.

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