The feature-length directorial debut of Welby Ings, (designer, playwright and filmmaker) Punch is structured beautifully, serving raw, unfiltered looks into imploding lives. The film is bookended by a series of clips, well-placed shots around rural towns, suburbs that could be anywhere, and volcanic beaches. Each of these manicured moments are panoramic and feel like living, breathing dioramas, capturing a stillness that gives the viewer time to pause, reflect, and soak in the sights.
The main cast is excellent, especially the two young leads, Jordan Oosterhof, who plays Jim, a boxer ready to turn pro; and Conan Hayes, as Whetu, a gay Moari man who longs to leave the small town. Hayes especially deserves commendation for their performance, portraying Whetu’s isolation and pain with such honesty and grace. Moreso, Hayes delivers a lightness which makes his unspoken pull to Jim feel like the most natural thing in the world.
While following a clearly defined throughline, scenes that cut through each character’s fog feel like little vignettes, from a difficult doctor’s appointment with Tim Roth’s character, Stan, to one of the many expeditions of burgeoning filmmaking with Jim, shooting music videos on a GoPro. These scenes develop characters wonderfully, turning each little cog to the correct position and letting the movie’s bells really chime.
The film takes a shocking turn toward its back half, whereupon there is a point-of-view scene featuring abhorrent violence. Completely different in tone, palette, and sound from the rest of the feature, this scene is utterly raw, brutal, and genuinely upsetting. Viewers should be very mindful of content warnings before going into this feature, take everything into account and make an informed decision.
Punch is a haunting story of love, acceptance, and charting one’s own path — scenes of desolate beauty, a brilliant cast, and a story that will have you in tears. It is the kind of movie you should open your heart to, sit down in a quiet room, and just let it wash over you, definitely one to see if you get the chance.