Review: ‘Benny Loves You’ (ta da!)

When childish things put you away.

Jack (Karl Holt) is a toy-loving man-child with zero grasp of actual adulting. Even his work at an established toy company seems childish, especially compared to the confidence, success, and sheer luck of fellow designer Richard (George Collie). Faced with mounting debt, a downgraded job, and a career-killing deadline, Jack heeds the advice of a self-help program and purges his personal life of all its childhood trappings, including his beloved stuffed bear Benny. Unfortunately, his former childhood playmate isn’t content being relegated to the rubbish bin and intends to keep Jack all to himself… no matter who gets in the way.

Writer/director Karl Holt has crafted a character so worthless he couldn’t in good conscience inflict him upon any other actor, taking on the role himself. Viewers will find themselves wholly incapable of feeling pity for Jack, wondering what final fate will put him out of everyone’s misery in standard horror-comedy fashion. Following a traditional up-front kill mirroring the opening scene of any episode of “Supernatural,” the entire first act is an exercise in futility — save for a bizarre scene explaining why Jack lives alone. Even as the most dedicated horror fans may begin to ask themselves, “Why am I inflicting this upon myself?” the director whispers from the darkness: “But wait: there’s more!”

This isn’t the kind of fright flick fans simply watch over and over; it’s a movie cinephiles whip out and inflict upon unsuspecting victims to bear unholy witness: “Ever watch Benny Loves You?” The first two acts feel rudderless, unhinged, and inconsistent, like a movie made over a couple of years, worked on whenever everyone has the time or money. It’s a movie providing viewers every reason to give up on it while still daring them to keep watching, but that’s Benny’s secret. The final act payoff not only pulls the story together but recalls every detail, tugging on each dangling plot thread up until the final frame as an act of sheer will… in a good way.

From the inexplicable inclusion and sudden attraction of girlfriend Dawn (played by Claire Cartwright) to repeated pokes at other pop-culture films in and out of the genre, the movie is littered with randomness and happenstance that inexplicably works once the ball gets rolling. Benny himself looks less like a stuffed bear and more like what a small-town trademark lawyer signed off on as “least likely to draw litigation from the Children’s Television Workshop for using a thinly veiled Elmo from ‘Sesame Street’ as a puppet serial killer.” Ridiculous yet meticulously choreographed sequences are played competently straight as filmmakers defiantly stage them as seriously as possible.

From Puppet Master films to Child’s Play remakes, stories about playthings-gone-bad are an imaginative way to showcase practical effects and entertain on a budget, but the wrong choices can end up creating The Happytime Murders. Fortunately, once Holt’s creation stomps down on the accelerator, it forgets to use the brake, sending all of its screaming passengers careening over a cliff as the driver smiles.

Benny Loves You is rated TV-MA, which is pretty much rated R for random violence, senseless gore, and being oh so very British.

Three skull recommendation out of four

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