Worryingly terrible nominal horror, neither unsettling nor vaguely interesting.
In a way, Nicolas Roeg's Puffball represents salvation. You see, after a dangerous run of films ranging from 'quite acceptable' to 'really great', it was looking for a while like I'd have to concede that the year's cinematic output was not, in fact, completely unsalvageable. The implications for my reputation as a curmudgeonly, embittered, joyless old coot would have been disastrous. Thankfully, Puffball provides a suitable opportunity to roundly dismiss months of planning and production with an off-the-cuff verdict of "total pish".
Somewhere in a particularly rural part of rural Ireland, a delectable, oddly named architect Liffey (Kelly Reilly) purchases the ruined shell of a cottage with the intention to rebuild it alongside her boyfriend Richard (Oscar Pearce). As is so commonly the way in all representations of small rural villages, the inhabitants are so extraordinarily nosy it's difficult not to wish an immediate gruesome death on them. Chief nosy parker comes in the form of the neighbours' crazy matriarch Molly (Rita Tushingham) and daughter, the impendingly-menopausal, desperate for another child Mabs (Miranda Richardson).
Said matriarch is described as crazy above due to her insistence that, having been deep-sixed for fertility treatment due to her age and fact that she's already spawned twice, the best way for Mabs to conceive involves the mixing of various herbs, spices and contents of used condoms and application with a suspiciously phallic vegetable of the kind rarely mentioned since smug tooth-merchant Esther Rantzen's droneathone That's Life! was mercifully taken out behind the barn and shot in the head. The point of this paragraph is to establish that the locals are the sort of backwards mongtards who believe in witchcraft, as occurs in approximately one hundred percent of all horror films, which rather sadly is the closest IMDB category I can find for this film, at least in the continued absence of a "total pish" category. IMDB guys, sort it out.
Anyhoo, and forgive the edited lowlights supplied from hereon in, but thinking about this film makes me depressed and upset and strangely itchy, Liffey falls pregnant at around the same time as Mabs was "supposed" to have conceived using Molly's eldritch test tube replacement, leading to the obvious conclusion that she's "stolen" Mabs' child. This is simultaneously the start of an enmity that's supposed to lead to drama and me switching off entirely and thinking about sherbet Dib-Dabs until the credits roll. Mmm. Sherbet.
It not as though there's not scope for building up some tension with more ordinary, reality-based means. Liffey does have a brief affair with Mabs' husband, although even that's tainted by the arcane presence of a homemade wine that seems to double as a combination of Rhino Horn and Rohypnol. It would perhaps have made a little more sense had it focused on some conventional, believable reasons to invest in a build of tension before going all voodoo, gypsy curse, hex nonsense. By making the opening salvos at once all hocusy-pocusy and completely hamfisted, the only clear signal this film sends is that you should be doing something else with your time, and that before we tackle the issue of the suggestion that there's some sort of metaphysical child growing inside the titular puffball mushroom growing next to an ancient pagan monument. In fact let's not tackle that at all, it's far too silly.
Let us tackle instead Donald Sutherland, his character and the utility thereof. Playing Liffey's ex-boss in an architect firm, before she went off building her dream cottage, he shows up twice in this film almost bookending it. Neither time does he say anything relevant to the rest of the film or do anything relevant to the rest of the film. In fact, the only thing he does is remind me of Nicolas Roeg's previous film Don't Look Now, one of the precious few horror films I actually like, and of how extraordinarily inferior this outing is.
This appears to want to recapture the oppressive, alien entering an insular culture nature of The Wicker Man, along with a thousand others, but sadly the film it appears closest to in quality is Scotland's own cackbasket Devil's Gate. Well, it's not quite that bad, and in fact the acting from everyone involved is of a higher quality than we've come to expect from anything labelled 'horror'. This, however is akin to saying that the Nazis had pleasant buttons on their uniforms inasmuch as it still doesn't excuse their loutish behaviour. The bounders.
Largely, Puffball is dull. When Puffball isn't dull, it's really stupid. This, for the slow of thinking, is not a pleasing state of affairs. This all perhaps sounds a little dismissive, but that's only because the film I've suffered through is total pish. Puffball? Pishball, more like.
That wasn't particularly erudite of me. It's the truth, though.
Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 1/5 TippyMarks.
Miranda Richardson (Mabs Tucker)
Rita Tushingham (Molly)
Oscar Pearce (Richard)
William Houston (Tucker)
Donald Sutherland (Lars)