Disagreeing with someone’s lifestyle is one thing, but forcing one’s beliefs onto another with threats of Old Testament fire and brimstone is a whole other matter. In their third directorial horror short film, Puppet, DaG (Joseph R. Davis and Brian Gerson) boldly explores the divisive social topic of institutionalized religion and fundamentalism. Implementing the beloved subgenre of an apocalyptic zombie outbreak with the zealots serving as ground zero, this story, written by Jeffery Potts (52 Weeks of Horror, Final Score), is not without some irony. Paired with creative special effects and notable cast performances, this PROco PROduction coMPANY film packs a full punch in its short 20-minute runtime.
When a group of friends gather for dinner under false pretenses, not-so-religious Emery (Tara Cardinal, Legend of the Red Reaper, Apocalypse Z) is surprised to learn about the post-dinner bible study. Irritated that Telia (Leah Ann Cevoli, Deadwood), her fundamentalist sister, acted deceptively to push an alternative agenda, tension steadily grows between Emery and some of the other guests. Matters only worsen when a zombie virus begins infecting the group as they begin ripping each other apart.
With cleverly placed abstract sound effects giving a 28 Days Later vibe, the suspense subtly grows from the opening scene. Despite the simplicity of such effects, the eerie sounds add to the lingering anticipation that something horrible is about to befallen this group of zealots. With the performances helping drive the film, such terrible misfortune for some of these characters is not entirely unwelcome.
When Emery first arrives to the dinner party with her sister and brother-in-law, Jeremy (Jeffery Potts), it is obvious that she is the outcast from the group. Cardinal is outstanding in this role finding a balance between knowing she won’t be accepted within this group and remaining relatively polite. However, as the night goes on, her composure gradually falls apart in a believable and humanistic way when someone is cornered in the face of lecture and judgment.
Cardinal isn’t the only one who dominates the screen. Portraying a self-righteous woman who passively judges others, Berna Roberts (Alpha Dog) plays the role of Alice DeMarco to perfection. Her first off-putting interaction with Emery is enough to hope she will be the first to meet an unpleasant end. Though subtler in their judgment, Cevoli and Potts’ display of fundamentalist zealots on a mission of conversion comes out soon enough. These well-done performances are entirely believable as a couple deluded enough to believe they are doing the right thing while entirely missing the faults in their actions.
Though the intolerance of stereotypical fundamentalist zealots is prevalent, not all the characters reflect the ugly side of faith-based groups. Ryan Demarest adds a lighter side to the film in his role as Dan DeMarco. Offering more lighthearted dialogue, you almost want to see this character survive the unavoidable terror soon to be unleashed on the unsuspecting party. However, one character is sure to be a crowd favorite. Matt Jayson (NCIS, Scorpion) gives an outstanding performance as Emmett, a kind soul who realizes the awkwardness of the situation. Realizing his own imperfections, Emmett talks to Emery as a fellow human being rather than someone who he thinks needs to be saved.
With gradual plot progression, a story of substance and characters with depth, it is surprising so much ground is covered in such a short run-time. Though it may leave some fans of flesh eater films disappointed, horror fans of substance will be left craving more. One can hope that this film gets a full-length feature deal in the near future. Until then, you can view Puppet on YouTube to satisfy your undying curiosity.