The found footage shrieker Puzzle Box, written and directed by Jack Dignan, heralds a quiet time in the drug horror movie sector. Kait (Kaitlyn Boye) is going to an isolated house that her sister, Olivia (Laneikka Denne), has rented. She’s going through withdrawal from heroin, and Olivia is filming it. Olivia is upset that the owner left behind wine bottles as welcome gifts. She pours them down the drain while Kait reminds her that she is a junkie, not an alcoholic.
As night falls, Kait starts feeling worse and worse. In the middle of the night, she picks up the camera and goes downstairs. There, she finds a figure of a strange woman (Cassandre Girard) standing with her back to Kait. The woman turns around and runs toward her screaming. Kait scrambles up the stairs and into another room with the screaming woman behind her. Suddenly, rooms open up into hallways that weren’t there before, leading to rooms that lead back to other places altogether. Soon, Kait finds herself running into rooms where the screaming lady is already waiting.
I know my way around the aforementioned Australian drug horror movie sector. I still have a VHS of The 13th Floor, a ghost story from Down Under that was elevated by whipping out a junkie twist. So, I do respect both the intent and the heritage of Puzzle Box. Drug addiction and withdrawal are ripe fields for horror, as few metaphors are more scary than the realities of narcotic slavery. I must applaud having the heroin withdrawal as the central focus of the narrative as opposed to a superficial embellishment. The speech Boye gives about her self-medication with smack is as chillingly genuine as her gritty performance.
“…finds a figure of a strange woman standing with her back to Kait.”
I also love the concept of the inner architecture of the house constantly rearranging, as that is a cool metaphor for trying to find a way out of addiction. It is a clever idea that works with the low budget parameters. Also, Girard is scary, make no mistake. See her charging toward you, hollering, is going to send your pants to the washing machine.
However, even though I like the filmmaker’s formula, there are some slips within the execution. The first is a common concern with found footage movies: many sequences are too damn dark and shaky. I didn’t know when the rooms were shifting around except when Boye mentioned it. Also, while Puzzle Box can make your skin crawl, it relies on Girard running at you, screaming over and over again. You can twist all you want, but in the end, we are left with a single ragged-looking woman in a bloody tank top running around screaming like the Tiki monster in Trilogy of Terror.
However, it all comes together by the time the credits roll, and I love the Dignan’s intent. If you are intrigued by the idea of Puzzle Box, by all means, jump on it, as this puzzle isn’t missing any of its pieces. But be warned that more than a few pieces are exactly the same as the others.
"…can make your skin crawl..."