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Movie Review - Benny Loves You

I should love this movie.

It’s got some great kills, gruesome practical effects, so-bad-it’s-good CG and some clever writing that wears its influences on its sleeve.

So why do I not adore Benny Loves You? Let’s cover that after the synopsis.

After tragically losing his parents on his birthday, Jack is trying to pull his life together, but nothing seems to go right. He loses his girlfriend because she thinks he’s a loser. He’s in the running for a promotion at work but is also just as likely to get fired. Feeling he needs to start from scratch, he bins up all his old possessions, hoping to start anew. His favorite childhood bear, Benny, didn’t get the memo though. Mysteriously coming to life, Benny goes on a murderous rampage, killing anyone that either threatens Jack or manages to take Jack’s attention away from him. With a new romance blossoming and the police at his heels, can Jack keep Benny’s bloodlust under wraps? Or will he be trapped in a cycle of death with his old furry pal?

The opening of the film really sets the stage for everything we’re going to see over the next 94 minutes. Here we see a spoiled brat of a child and her suffering mother, the kid screaming for the birthday presents she knows she’s getting the next day, her actual birthday…but of course, she wants them now. Seeking the path of most quiet, mom breaks down and gives them to her. And, just like any child, the old toy, her favorite bear that repeats “You’re Special!” gets tossed into the closet. As we see the bear come to life, it doesn’t take long to gather he’s not exactly thrilled about this change to the status quo and, setting the audience up for the mayhem to come, makes short work of the girl, carving her eyes out and writing “You’re Special” in blood on the wall.

Like I said, this sets the stage for the audience in both the good and the bad. The good in that the kill is pretty unnerving, the girl’s eyeless gaze directly into the camera shows off the skill of the practical effects. The writing shines here as well, as the bear plays with the child’s fear at first, not only ratcheting up the tension between her and her unwanted plaything, but also between the girl and her mother. Also, let’s face it, we want to see this brat die. Horribly. This is where we dip into the bad. While the writing is clever, it also doesn’t give us anyone to cheer for. I’ll expand on this later as we get into the main story. We don’t like the girl because she’s a screaming little shit. Can’t say there’s a lot of sympathy for the mom either, who caves in every time there’s a shrill scream. Even when mom finally does snap and have enough courage to slap the little monster (the child not the bear), it almost feels like too little too late. Lastly, given the horrific nature of the kill…well, it’s hard to side with the teddy too.

This brings us to Jack, a 35-year-old toy designer that’s still living at home with his parents. While I’m not necessarily thrilled about the use of this fact to be shorthand in this story for “this guy’s a real loser”, between that, his shallow and superficial girlfriend and his own loathing of her, right off the bat we’re not really given a reason to like Jack. And he’s our protagonist. Even worse, over the next 10 minutes, we’re introduced to more people we like even less: his boss, his main competition for the upcoming promotion (Richard) and the obnoxious banker looking for foreclose on his parents’ house. Look, I get that in a horror movie, especially a slasher, you want to set up not only the fodder, but also reasons that the audience will want to see them get their just desserts. But for between the first third and first half of the film, everyone just kind of…sucks. Including Jack. ESPECIALLY Jack as he’s portrayed as a sullen man-child with nearly zero in the way of redeeming qualities or at least something that would cause the audience to rally around behind him. Some redemption comes in the form of Dawn, a co-worker that ends up protecting Jack at work and also shows a romantic interest…but introducing what is quite possibly your only likeable character well after the killings have started seems like rewarding the audience’s good faith too late.

Now, what about Benny? Well, you’ll certainly never look at an Elmo toy the same way again, that’s for sure…as he was clearly the inspiration for Benny. And the CG bringing our killer to life is bad enough to ensure that you’re never going to NOT know he’s totally bits and polygons, yet it somehow works. It adds a goofy look to this now-living toy that reminds the audience that we are indeed in the middle of a horror-comedy and not other assorted dolls-come-to-life-to-kill films that play things straight. The problem is that this goofiness isn’t utilized to draw the audience into cheering for the killer. Instead, Benny is played as a non-stop killing machine not only ‘protecting’ Jack but also making his life a living hell…with some kills actually working against Jack instead of for him. By the time we reach the film’s climax, yes, we are cheering for Benny’s seeming demise but it’s not because we have anyone in particular to rally to. Nay, we’re just annoyed with the little shit.

It is worth mentioning that in the back half of the film, the writers show their hand with regard to their influences with some straight up direct Aliens quotes and some domicile defense that would make Kevin McAllister proud. As I reflect on the film, I cannot help but wonder though…were these references really clever writing or had I reached a point where I was desperate to find something…anything…to redeem this movie.

Speaking of redemption, the practical effects and the kills they support are indeed top notch. As I said earlier, the first kill shows us the standard and the film doesn’t falter at any point in this department. There is a bit of a dip when it comes to the severed head of the banker, but that felt more like an overuse of a prop that might not have been designed for all it had to go through and how long it had to go through it. Otherwise, the impalement was good, the forking worked out and I’m not gonna lie, the vacuum cleaner kill toward the end of the film made me a little nauseous, especially seeing the intestines getting sucked out of the victim and into the HEPA filter.

Benny Loves You should have worked. The only thing that it’s missing is a worthy protagonist…someone the audience likes and can rally around. Hell, we don’t even have to start off liking him so long as he has a well-defined character arc. But he doesn’t. By the time I even shared a sentiment with him, when he finally has enough of Benny and his murderous ways, it wasn’t that I was having a sympathetic moment with Jack…we simply agreed that yes, Benny had rounded the corner to an irredeemably annoying character. You don’t have to like someone to agree with them…and that was certainly the case here. I hate to keep taking a shit on this movie, because the core concept is a good one, the gore was extremely well done and, I mean, there was Dawn…so, you know, at least one good character. But Benny Loves You provides a very important screenwriting lesson, especially for horror films…be they straight-laced or comedies…if you don’t have a protagonist that your audience can like and sympathize with, your movie has no heart. And, like many of the corpses Benny piled up, this film is missing a heart. Unfortunately, that means I have to brand Benny Loves You with an Angry Cat rating.

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