You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Sundance Film Review: ‘Judy & Punch’

Mirrah Foulkes' first directorial feature is a determinedly offbeat, often delightful mix of satire, whimsy and social critique.

Mirrah Foulkes
Mia Wasikowska, Damon Herriman, Tom Budge, Benedict Hardie, Lucy Velik, Gillian Jones, Terry Norris, Brenda Palmer, Daisy Axon.

1 hour 45 minutes

Though Sundance is always awash in empowerment tales both fictive and non, this year the climate of political discord seems to have inspired an even larger batch than usual, particularly those that address misogyny. And there’s unlikely to be another such title in 2019 that thinks so far outside the creative box to score its points as “Judy & Punch,” Aussie thesp-turned-writer-director Mirrah Foulkes’ first feature.

Located somewhere on the fanciful continuum between Wiccan fable and Monty Python farce, this is a tale of domestic-violence revenge set in a satirical-whimsical land of never-was. The core narrative is rather simple, and the political metaphor not especially subtle. But the overall concept, from Foulkes and her trio of story collaborators, has a bracingly original air, from the film’s period anachronisms to its impressive design elements. Slick as a mid-budget mainstream popcorn fantasy (though in spirit anything but), it’s a sure bet for lively distribution bidding; still, marketing this oft-delightful concoction will nonetheless pose a challenge.

Being landlocked isn’t the only thing strange about a town named Seaside, whose era and location might best be described as Vintage Hammer Studios; it’s the kind of all-purpose movie village of yore where one expects a vampire or werewolf to keep rowdy peasants in line. Here, however, residents mostly direct their superstitious fears at each other, with a regular Stoning Day devoted to the public demise of any poor women unlucky enough to be accused of something that might pass as sorcery — such as looking at the moon for a suspiciously long time.

That’s one distasteful fact of life among many for Judy (Mia Wasikowska), a Seaside native who ran away with entertainer Punch (Damon Herriman) but returned with him and a newborn babe. Her status seems relatively high as spouse to “the greatest puppeteer of his generation,” whose knockabout shows are always a hit. But she actually seems to be the more talented half of the partnership, while he — resembling too closely his marionette alter ego — is a drunkard and batterer whose promises to turn over a new leaf always come up empty.

Left to care for the baby for just an hour, he gets soused and is responsible for a tragic, unforgivable accident. Upon Judy’s return, her horrified reprisal leads to him seemingly beat her to death, burying her body in the forest, then wailing to the authorities that his wife and child are “missing.” Soon he’s fingering two harmless old servants (Brenda Palmer, Terry Norris) as “witches” to further obscure his dastardly deeds.

But Judy is found, not entirely dead after all, by outcast children. They bring her to a secret, transient “heretic camp” whose members have all fled or been chased out of society for being different. Eventually she recovers enough to plot her sweet revenge.

Yet that vengeance is a little too “magical” in presentation for a film whose world may be cobbled together from collective cultural memories but which, until then, is viewed through a sensibility that exposes rather than embraces illusion. Nonetheless, Foulkes’ script and direction retain enough playful invention to undercut the whiff of heavy-handedness, even when Wasikowska delivers a climactic speech that might as well be openly directed at reactionary political forces in any country “Judy & Punch” is likely to play in.

Cast and crew fully commit to this skewed fairy tale, whose ingenuity of detail lifts it over the occasional obviousness of plot or message. Foulkes’ writing especially shines in the fun that’s had with fracturing archaic language, or nonverbal incongruities like a quasi-gypsy community practicing tai chi to a Leonard Cohen song. Excellent design contributions conjure equally familiar yet slightly askew takes on vaguely 18th-century mittle-Yurrup dress and decor, all handsomely captured in Stefan Duscio’s widescreen cinematography. Francois Tetaz’s score incorporates everything from lightly ironic orchestral sobriety to the odd bit of retro prog-rock.

Wasikowska, who seemed to have stopped playing ingenues just the other day, now sports a mature authority that makes Judy seem formidable even before the story requires it. Longtime Aussie film/TV actor Herriman channels some of the late Richard Harris’ semi-tongue-in-cheek bombast as the classic weak-willed bully with delusions of grandeur. Principal among the flavorsome support turns are Lucy Velik as the villager of easy virtue who encourages vice, and Benedict Hardie as a greenhorn constable who’s the only man here with a notion that justice should be based on reason rather than bloodlust.

Sundance Film Review: 'Judy & Punch'

Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (World Dramatic Competition), Jan. 27, 2019. Running time: 105 MIN.

Production: (Australia) A Vice Studios and Screen Australia presentation in association with Film Victoria and Create NSW of a Blue-Tongue Films and Pariah production. (International sales: Cornerstone Films, London.) Producers: Michele Bennett, Nash Edgerton, Danny Gabai. Executive producers: Eddy Moretti, Vincent Landay, Natalie Farrey, Jennifer Semler, Tom Punch, Judy Punch.

Crew: Director, writer: Mirrah Foulkes, from a story by Tom Punch, Lucy Punch, Eddy Moretti, Foulkes. Camera (color, widescreen, HD): Stefan Duscio. Editor: Dany Cooper. Music: Francois Tetaz.

With: Mia Wasikowska, Damon Herriman, Tom Budge, Benedict Hardie, Lucy Velik, Gillian Jones, Terry Norris, Brenda Palmer, Daisy Axon.

More Film

  • Jon Feltheimer

    Lionsgate Posts Loss, Underperforms Wall Street Expectations

    Lionsgate has posted a quarterly loss and its revenues and operating income have come in under Wall Street projections, despite growth from its premium cable channel, Starz. The studio reported a net loss of $24 million, or 11 cents a share, with adjusted operating income of $103 million for its fourth fiscal quarter ended March [...]

  • Cannes: China's 'Summer of Changsha' Debuts

    Cannes: China's 'Summer of Changsha' Debuts Without Censorship Approval

    Chinese crime drama “Summer of Changsha” screened at the Cannes Film Festival in the Un Certain Regard section despite lacking the necessary approvals from China’s censors. It premiered without its director or creative team in attendance, who blamed “technical reasons” for their absence — marking the third time that Chinese censorship appears to have caused [...]

  • Jane Austin SAG AFTRA

    SAG-AFTRA Secretary-Treasurer Jane Austin Running for President

    Jane Austin, the National Secretary-Treasurer of SAG-AFTRA, has become the third candidate for the presidency of the performers union, joining incumbent Gabrielle Carteris and Matthew Modine. Austin is running as an independent for the top post at SAG-AFTRA, which has 160,000 members. Carteris will seek re-election as the head of the ticket for the Unite [...]

  • John Wick Chapter 3

    'John Wick: Chapter 3' Tones Down the Blood and Gore to Keep Look 'Totally Real'

    When Jeff Campbell, a visual effects supervisor with VFX studio Spin, initially set to work on the first “John Wick,” the 2014 action thriller from director Chad Stahelski and writer Derek Kolstad, he started with an industry-standard test: Establish a single, simple kill effect meant to get a sense of the look of the violence [...]

  • Louise Courvoisier’s ‘Mano a Mano’ Wins Cinéfondation

    Louise Courvoisier’s ‘Mano a Mano’ Wins Cannes Cinefondation Selection Top Prize

    CANNES–“Mano a Mano,” by Louise Courvoisier of France’s CinéFabrique, won the first prize Thursday at the 22nd Cinéfondation Selection,the Cannes Film Festival’s top film school shorts awards. The prize was awarded by a jury headed by French director Claire Denis (“Beau Travail”). The jury also included French actress Stacy Martin (“Godard mon amour”); Israeli writer-director Eran [...]

  • The Traitor

    Cannes Film Review: 'The Traitor'

    What surprises most about Marco Bellocchio’s Mafia drama “The Traitor” is just how straightforward it is. Given its subject — Tommaso Buscetta, the highest-ranking Mafia don to sing to the authorities — there were expectations that the director would deliver a theatrical drama along the lines of “Vincere,” but notwithstanding a few operatic flourishes, his [...]

  • Perfect Strangers

    Zhao Tao, Rajkumar Hirani Join Shanghai Festival Jury

    Italian director Paolo Genovese and Chinese actress Zhao Tao are among members of the jury for the upcoming Shanghai International Film Festival. They join the previously announced jury president, 2014 Cannes Palme d’Or winner Nuri Bilge Ceylan, the Turkish director behind last year’s “The Wild Pear Tree.” Genovese’s 2016 film “Perfect Strangers” made $7.7 million [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content