Benny Loves You is nothing if not a passion project, but one likely to be loved only by its creator.
Murderous toys are nothing new to the big screen, and, in fact, have had a bit of resurgence of late thanks to the wildly popular animatronics-run-amok video game series Five Nights at Freddy’s. But setting that aside and imagining for a second that Benny Loves You had been the first of its kind, it would still be a humorless slog, the type of film whose bid at cult status is so nakedly evident and pathetic that you almost suffer secondhand embarrassment. Writer-director-editor-“and other fings” Karl Holt stars as Jack, a 35-year-old man-child whose sad-sack life is turned upside down after the gruesome accidental death of his parents, with whom he still lived. A toy designer stuck in a dead-end job where no one respects him, Jack is nearly at the end of his rope when his favorite childhood stuffed animal — the bright red, floppy-eared, titular Benny — comes to life and begins murdering those who stand in the way of his happiness. Jack, meanwhile, is left to quite literally pick up the pieces, while increasingly suspicious police and co-workers begin to investigate the secret life he is hiding.
Benny Loves You starts in a key of sadistic absurdism and never lets up, with the opening scene featuring a harried mother slapping her brute of a daughter with such force that an over-exaggerated red handprint is left on the child’s cheek. This is also done in slow-motion, so as to assure that viewers get to see the spit that is knocked out of the little monster’s mouth. The girl is then brutally murdered by her teddy bear. Holt seems unable to understand that, in order for this material to work, it needs to be grounded in some sort of reality, with the contrast between the murderous stuffed animal shenanigans and the outside world providing the comedy; everything in Benny Loves You is pitched at an 11, even the dry British witticisms. It’s certainly no accident that might be reminded of the likes of Edgar Wright and his Cornetto trilogy when watching this film, although Holt would have been wise to take a page from that filmmaker’s sense of swift pacing. Benny Loves You is ultimately a single joke set to repeat, with the major problem being that the joke isn’t even that funny or original to begin with. The special effects are appropriately lo-fi, with crude CGI bringing Benny to life, awkwardly inserted into the action like old-school matte shots. And things do at least perk up for an action-driven finale that features multiple sentient toys battling one another, revealing that Holt’s true talent lies in animated antics and not directing flesh-and-blood actors who seem approximately as bored by the material as the viewer’s sure to be. You’ve got to give credit to Holt for launching a passion project in which he had a hand in literally every aspect, made profoundly evident by the sub-30-second end credits. Holt clearly loves Benny; he’s like to be the only one.
Published as part of Before We Vanish | May 2021.