What to Watch Verdict
'Benny Loves You' introduces a new horror icon in the making but struggles at times to nail comedic stylings that push zaniness over the edge.
🔪 Benny comes to life.
🔪 Impossibly fun at its strongest.
🔪 Stays whimsical and macabre throughout.
🔪 Humor is hit and miss.
🔪 When Benny's out of focus, momentum halts.
🔪 Very much dependant on your comedy appreciation.
Somewhere between Bad Milo!, Ted and Dolls exists Benny Loves You. It’s never as impressively puppetted as Bad Milo! (although not far off), as raucous as Ted, or as outlandishly midnight-macabre as Dolls, but all mentioned titles can be flagged as influences. Karl Holt stresses the comedy in his plushy best-friend nightmare, which becomes the film's saving grace and letdown in equal portions. It’s astounding to see how many hats Holt wears when bringing Benny to life (writer, director, star, cinematographer, probably caterer). Still, seams show more than thrice based on budgetary hurdles alone. It’s a marvelously rowdy concept that shines when full-throttle—coming from a lover of killer plaything cinema—but uneven humor will divide audiences who aren’t inebriated to the point of appropriate looseness.
Everyone’s midlife crisis hits differently, but Jack’s (Karl Holt) takes the cake. At the age of thirty-five, his parents perish in an unfortunate surprise birthday party accident, leaving Jack the home of his dreams. Unfortunately, Jack’s position at Toy Box is threatened by co-worker Richard (George Collie), and housing payments become scarce. Jack decides to overhaul his life and retire his childish ways, but there’s one presence from his adolescence that won’t stay in storage—a stuffed teddy in a vest named Benny, who springs to life in an attempt to aid his “best friend” via increasingly gruesome means.
The nod to Bad Milo! should indicate Benny’s signature expression of affection. Jack’s spine is cooked spaghetti and belly yellow, so Benny begins slicing through his buddy’s problems with a kitchen knife. It’s rarely horrific given Benny’s huggable exterior and squeaky repetitions of “Benny loves you,” which spotlights Holt’s sense of gleefulness over any semblance of a scare. When Benny and Jack spend an afternoon modeling Jack’s newest marketable creation—horror inspired Skare Bears—energies run high as Benny dresses in nunsploitation veils or pops out of a coffin like Dracula, which is sensationally sweet. When Holt spends an exhausting Saturday night situational gag fixated on a pug’s murder—using a rubbery, ultra-fake replicant—it’s easy to lose focus because of the excruciatingly bonkers-but-boorish material deflates faster than a thousand-times punctured bouncy castle.
It’s an at-odds balance between Benny’s murder spree, Jack’s courting of office crush Dawn (Claire Cartwright), and Jack’s eventual evolution into a more mature adult that hinders what should be Benny’s breakout slash-travaganza. When Benny’s the focal point—jiggle-hopping around, stuffing beheaded dolls with canned spaghetti like intestines, or reenacting horror movie stills (shadow behind laundry sheet)—expect tremendous amounts of imaginatively anthropomorphic fun to applaud. When heavy narrative lifting diverts to outside world-building (i.e., an introduction with another neglected toy out for revenge) or onto lesser bumbling police gags, Benny Loves You stumbles backward. Holt so proficiently personalizes Benny and painstakingly details his bounce-about strut or protective bodyguard instincts, it’s hard not to miss Benny’s antics when weaker attempts at workplace “drama” or romantic stakes are treated with the same bizarre unbelievability.
I write this review as a conflicted critic because half of Benny Loves You is softer than cotton filling, and yet there’s oodles of Benny’s grim jubilation worth endless not-so-serious howls. Benny is a killing machine with mannerisms that evoke Gir from Invader Zim, while the bloodiness of severed fingers and vacuumed intestines splatter gore like paintings that might hang in Patrick Bateman’s apartment. It’s unavoidably indie, but Benny’s standalone mobility and spritely charms drill into your heart whether he’s torturing a real estate agent, cowering behind a pillow thanks to Universal Monsters, or fighting reprogrammed disco robots with sawblade hands. Between Holt’s animated effects and his supportive performance as jaded, in-a-pickle Jack, Benny becomes a memorable horror killer with a heart stitched of golden fabric. What you’re here for plays aces, from friendship montages set to Lego Movie soundtrack beats to samurai inspirations and slow-motion superhero landings.
There’s even a scene where discarded Benny sits on a lopsided seesaw under gloomy rain clouds, cast aside by his soulmate, and you realize there’s magic propelling this oddball feel-good slaughterfest—empathy comes easy. Holt doesn’t force us to care for Benny; these feelings bubble naturally.
Benny Loves You is a testament to outlaw filmmaking as Karl Holt passionately creates something saccharine, ceremoniously silly, and zany to the max—albeit hit or miss as scenes pass. It’s the inevitable gamble of leaning on comedy that’s considerably more niche atop a British sensibility (biscuit banter and whatnot). What Benny Loves You accomplishes given such obvious restraints makes Holt’s name one to watch, but the film’s ambition is also a victim of its own circumstance. Any gimmick narrative that sells its gimmick this magnificently earns appropriate recommendations—I just wish there were more to love outside Benny’s happy-time rampage, sealing his placement as the genre’s cutest executioner since Milo crawled out of Ken Marino’s colon.
Matt Donato is a Rotten Tomatoes approved film critic who stays up too late typing words for What To Watch, IGN, Paste, Bloody Disgusting, Fangoria and countless other publications. He is a member of Critics Choice and co-hosts a weekly livestream with Perri Nemiroff called the Merri Hour. You probably shouldn't feed him after midnight, just to be safe.