Low budget independent horror comedies probably aren’t the first type of movie that comes to mind when one hears of years-long production periods. Complex, troubled shoots like Apocalypse Now, perhaps, or rigorously, laboriously refined passion projects from obsessive auteurs like The Tree of Life, or even studio mega-blockbusters, pre-vizzed to hell and back, like Disney/Marvel’s Avengers films. But not quickie British B-movies.

Alas, quickie British horror comedies occasionally do take six or seven years to reach the big screen – or, if you’re in the middle of a global pandemic, the small screen – especially if they’re the work of fledgling filmmakers diligently tweaking their debut feature’s ambitious digital effects. Such is the case with Benny Loves You, which wrapped photography some six years ago, underwent extensive post-production on a shoestring budget, then slowly made the festival rounds at exactly the time film festivals were forced to shut up shop. It’s been a long time coming but, finally, Karl Holt’s movie is reaching those screens.

Remarkably, it’s been worth the wait. This is a raucous, ridiculous black comedy, infused with a gleefully juvenile sense of humor and total commitment to its preposterous concept. Jack, a 35-year-old man-child, is stuck in a thankless job in a wretched toy manufacturing company, still living with his parents in grimmest, greyest rural England. After a series of tragic circumstances derail his already ignominious life, he vows to get his act together and make something of himself at long last. But his attempts to jettison all his comforting tethers to the past prove only partly successful as, of all things, his beloved childhood toy – a talking plush bear named Benny – unexpectedly comes to life and refuses to be thrown away, insisting on staying close to Jack at any cost.

There’s not really any point to all this save to make a movie where a plush toy violently murders all around it, so Benny stands, weapon in hand, in the way of all Jack’s efforts to move on with his life, brutally slaughtering anyone who crosses his path and threatens his attachment to his beloved human. Smarmy realtors, abusive work colleagues, even harmless animals are all fodder for Benny’s bloodlust and Holt’s deranged imagination alike. If Benny Loves You is already a deliciously nasty slice of off-color British comedy prior to Benny’s arrival, it only becomes more and more piquant and putrid as it progresses. Once the parameters of Holt’s nonsense scenario have been established, he essentially has carte blanche to take his premise wherever he likes; evidently, he likes to go dark, bloody and deeply, profoundly childish.

And that’s to his credit – there’s always room for more silliness in cinema, especially when the butts of the jokes are such unpleasant characters as Holt has lined up for Benny’s homicidal amusement. It’s where he strays into excessively off-color territory that Benny Loves You falters, overstepping the line separating the playfully provocative and the carelessly offensive. There’s a few moments here that stray a step too far into outright ugliness, as uncomfortable to endure now as they surely would have been six years ago, so the time factor provides no excuse. These moments are few and far between though and only ever momentary – Holt’s primary concern isn’t with edgelording it up but with exploring the full extent of his immaturity, something he carries off with aplomb.

This is a consistently funny comedy, never yielding to anything so un-British as sincerity or emotional profundity; it’s a thoroughly rotten example of thoroughly rotten British humor and quite fabulously so. By apparent necessity, Benny Loves You pivots to an action finale, which is where it comes a little unstuck. Though still as silly and inventive as ever before, the movie spins in circles for a solid 15 minutes here – Holt’s direction is exceptionally good for such an inexperienced filmmaker but he hasn’t mastered how to shape an extended action sequence conceptually, so it all becomes a bit repetitive and incoherent after a while. Yet this is his only major creative or structural misstep – when the movie’s on firmer, funnier footing, it’s a delightfully dark work from a very promising voice in comedy cinema. Here’s hoping we won’t have to wait until 2027 to hear from Holt again.

Puerile, hokey and needlessly violent – just what you’re after in a low-budget horror comedy. A strong debut feature from Karl Holt and a potential cult classic in the making.
76 %
Love you too, Benny
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