A question that is rarely asked but portrayed in a variety of horror films is if you could sit down and document a monster, which would it be and why? Think for a second and then think some more. At first, it sounds wild, dangerous, intriguing and something very few would consider attempting let alone surviving. Imagine coming face to face with monsters such as vampires, demons, werewolves, sea creatures, the undead and more, to learn about their stories. Insane right? Why would you attempt that knowing you probably would not make it out alive to tell their tales?!
With that said, I had the chance to watch the first feature from director, producer and co-writer Victor Mathieu entitled THE MONSTER PROJECT. Taking a found footage/POV angle in telling the story of addiction, insecurity, friendship and the unknown, THE MONSTER PROJECT shows potential. However, like the shaky camera, CW drama, and a quick to get the film done mentality, THE MONSTER PROJECT rehashes the same old too quick, to trimmed and to predictable, tropes.
Now, don't get me wrong, it is far from the worst film I have ever seen. THE MONSTER PROJECT suffers from a viral horror condition called unoriginal. You would think with a story idea surrounding a group of documentary filmmakers who decide to interview a demon, vampire, and skinwalker, it would not be something unoriginal, as they could have taken a different spin overall to show monsters in a more complex, historic and engrossing manner.
THE MONSTER PROJECT surrounds a pair of close filmmaking friends, one white and one black (does that matter with color... in this case yes!). They are joined by a recovering drug addict and his close "girl" friend who has a history with all three of the guys. The quartet decide to document "real" monsters who live amongst us. Putting out an online casting call, the quartet make their base for the doc in a creepy structure where the hope to uncover the monster's origins, fears, struggles and stories. As each monster arrives, the night begins to deteriorate as "real" monsters and demons manipulate, hunt and take control of the location; but the ghosts, fears, and personal demons of the filmmaking crew's past also come out of the shadows revealing something more sinister than just a revealing documentary. As the monsters are loose in the house, each crew member faces the worst side of themselves including uncontrollable emotions, past addictions, race and ego. By the end of the night, will the filmmaking crew survive with the footage as well as their lives in hand or will the arrogance of a narrative idea of documenting "real" monsters turn into something far worse than ever imagined?
As I sat back and watched, I realized a few things that both impressed and turned me off with this film beyond my thoughts above. First, for a found footage/POV style of film, Mathieu and crew effectively use the cameras. Each camera has a reason for them to be there. I can't say that for story purposes they are all effective or overdone, but each camera has a reason, which many filmmakers of this sub-genre of horror look to put for the sake of having cameras in to show their filmmaking inexperience and insecurities.
Second, for a found footage/POV film that is supposed to be running on emotion, fear, inquiry, shaky hands and chaos, it looks damn good on the screen! It reminds me of a new item dirtied up to create the effect of reality. Visually, the cinematography covers the film well, whether through any sort of a DP or the cast using the camera. The movements, placement and framing fits the tone, mood and action throughout. From the coverage of the haunted house style FX and makeup, to the framing of the locations, to Brian's solitary journal style shots, to the monster interview, the hunt and escape, to the scope of the set design, it is effective. However, as morbid and frightening as it is supposed to be, the effectiveness after a while is minimized with it being poorly lit. I understand it is indie low budget filmmaking and it is what the filmmaker is going for, but in this case, it really turned me off and made me miss the connection of fear, making the movements hard to follow and details lost. While it helped aid in the variety of FX and scares, one wonders why it stayed so dark for so long.
In regards to the sound work, it was done very well and helped to work in concert with the lighting and cinematography. You had all the haunted house sound recordings and editing and effects that one would hope for as a horror film fan. The creaking doors, footsteps, transformations, howls, screams, snarles, moans, crawling and such were all present and I had no complaints. It was one of the stronger aspects overall.
Finally, for me, it seems that the writers and Mathieu are all heavy fans of the genre. This is great for the viewer as the concept of monsters coming out of the shadows and being on the same playing field as humans is very cool. This allows the story to be compelling, scary, and at times humorous. With that said, I felt that they allowed their fandom of the genre, instead of their filmmakers, get in the way of THE MONSTER PROJECT. I could be totally wrong and I love people who are passionate in anything they do, but with horror, the twisted fan-love and worship thinned out the story to several surface plot points with very little substance. It reduced the film down to the rehashed norms and tropes that we see in this ocean of a sub-genre. We don't have layered characters who are truly conflicted or who understand the actions and dealings with demons. It just sucks to see in the writing and editing that a story is saved down to bare bones.
Going into this film, I had such hopes as I wanted the dialogue between the monsters and film crew to actually have more substance in their words, history and connection. I wanted to at least know a little about their origins and how they deal with being a monster. I wanted the inner demons within the humans to come forward and match the darkness inside the "real" monsters. Except for Brian, the recovering addict, played by the talented Toby Hemingway, the filmmaking crew are unlikable and are cookie cutter characters that really had very little depth even when we go deeper into why this documentary is happening. Even the black guy falls into every horror plot hole for black characters. Watch and you will see...
One of the cooler aspects, however, is the casting of the monster characters! Each monster ranges in culture, history, heritage and attitude. That was one of the parts that hooked me throughout and especially in the second act as we had the opportunity to connect with these monsters for different reasons. While I wanted more depth and backstory, even with the skinwalker, it had potential to craft a deep and tragic sub-plot. It felt like these monsters were just a means to an end.
I will give credit to the cast and crew behind THE MONSTER PROJECT for creating something; for picking up camera, going through the grinder, and getting the film out to the public. THE MONSTER PROJECT had a lot of potential and if redone without POV, more monster development, better lighting, and a twist that hasn't been twisted so many times, it could be a memorable monster film and not just an easy way to make a film. Look at films like GRAVE ENCOUNTERS, INFLICTION, REC and LOVELY MOLLY to see the blueprint. With that said, go out and judge for yourself. Support THE MONSTER PROJECT in theaters now and check out the trailer below.