Nightstream Review: Frank & Zed
Horror puppet movie is beautiful, heartbreaking, and gory
By Richard Whittaker,
6:00PM, Sat. Oct. 17, 2020
Finding the right room mate can be tricky. Luckily, Frank and Zed have each other. Frank has a night time condition that means Zed has to care for him, and he does so happily. Zed has dietary issues, and Frank keeps him stocked up. If that sounds sweet, it's because it is.
However, you may also need to know that Zed is a zombie, and Frank is a Frankenstein's monster, and they live (afterlive?) in a collapsing castle. Frank goes out every day to hunt for squirrel brains for Zed, and Zed makes sure Frank is plugged in at night. If that doesn't sounds oddly adorable enough, then the fact that they are rod puppets should seal the deal.
The first feature from the Puppetcore team out of Portland, Ore., Frank & Zed is a visual delight, a foam and latex fantasy land where the monsters spend their time caring for each other. Unfortunately, they are bound to a curse, a dark blood oath struck between a local king and a demonic force, and time is running out for the bond to be paid in what the prophesy calls an orgy of blood.
Say the word "adult puppets" and the first thought is Peter Jackson's grossout favorite Meet the Feebles: But if Frank & Zed hews close to anything in his back catalog, it's really the fantastical sequences in Heavenly Creatures. As for the inevitable Muppets comparisons, this is a darkly beautiful Fraggle Rock, a perfect exploration of a weird and wonderful world brought to live by extraordinarily talented puppeteers. It lives and breathes because of the two mostly wordless friends, their bond ageless and as beautifully executed as the twisted edifice in which they life, or the Nordic-influenced wooded village in the valley below. Even when violence does break out - and it undoubtedly does - it's so unique, paced and shot like a traditional Universal horror film but acted through cotton and thread.
But that orgy of blood is where everything gets slippy, and the charm wears thin. It shows the downside of a passion project: that there's no one around not so personally invested that they can say "no." A cavalcade of previously anonymous villagers become secondary characters with arcs and relationships at a point when the emotional tone is already set, and it puts a question mark over the audience's sympathy for Frank and Zed, which had previously never really been in doubt. Worse, a late revelation about a central character, one that should have been made much earlier, puts an uncomfortable spin on the ending, pulling it back from the teetering brink of complete tragedy.
It's not that it's any less entrancing than anything that has gone before. The Puppetcore team know how to make gore and viscera seem cuddly and vomitous at the same time, and that's no mean feat. It just goes on forever, as another villager gets their moment to shine, then gets ripped apart. This really is a case of more is far less, and that's a real shame, because the story of Frank and Zed is unconventionally brilliant, a tale of dependence and friendship,
Fred & Zed played as part of Nightstream, a joint streaming genre event organized by Boston Underground Film Festival, Brooklyn Horror Film Festival, North Bend Film Fest, The Overlook Film Festival, and Popcorn Frights Film Festival (Oct. 8-11, www.nightstream.org.