Courtesy of SHUDDER and RLJE Films

Are human beings really civilized? Or are they the monsters that we need to be protected from instead of what we think resides in the dark waiting for us? Such questions have been addressed in numerous forms of entertainment media, most especially in the science fiction genre. The Alien franchise and District 9 are immediately what comes to mind. However, I find that oftentimes the questions are more analyzed from a macro, institutional level through a military, corporate capitalist, and/or a broad general social lens. What would happen if we asked those questions while using a small, much more focused lens? For example, a group of troubled high school students? I think the horror film, MON MON MON MONSTERS, takes a great stab at addressing the questions above while also simultaneously breaking your heart in the process.

In MON MON MON MONSTERS, a straight-A, physically weak student named Lee Shu-wei (Deng Yu-kai) is in a battle of wills and fits against a gang of bullies, consisting of leader Tuan Ren-Hao (played terrifyingly off-kilter by Kent Tsai), his girlfriend Wu Si-Hua (Bonnie Liang), Liao Kuo-feng (James Lai), and Yeh Wei Chu. Shu-wei is pressured by his teacher (Carolyn Chen) to partake in community service with them as a way to reset his karma while also simultaneously blaming him for being bullied in the first place. While taking part in this community service in an old folk home, these students discover two flesh-eating creatures hiding in an old building. Upon being discovered, both attempt to flee. The eldest of the creatures (Eugenie Liu) is able to escape, but the youngest (Lin Pei-hsin) is not so lucky. The teenagers are able to capture her out of sheer luck and proceed to take her back to their hideaway to test her limits through torture and figure out what she is. In the process, they discover her blood has horrifying effects on human beings. As soon as their tests manage to get caught and put on the news, the eldest creature quickly starts putting together the pieces as to where her sister is. And she will stop at nothing to take vengeance for all the harm done to her sister.

I’ll start off by saying that the writing of this film as well as the conviction of all the actors in this film really helped make MON MON MON MONSTERS really strong and memorable. The way writer and director Giddens Ko has shaped and constructed the human characters really makes it easy to see where the line is drawn in terms of who is the monster and who isn’t.  However, even though the line is clearly drawn, Ko manages to make sure that we understand that these characters are not strictly black and white. There are reasons why the human characters are the way they are. The anti-hero leading character Lee Shu-wei, played by Deng Yu-kai, is so morally grey that you just have moments when you want to reach through the screen and smack some sense into him. By constructing these characters this way, it also serves to make the audience deeply sympathize with everything the creatures are going through as they try to survive in a world that isn’t designed for them. Especially when it is revealed that they had no choice in how they were created. These explorations of the grey really made the film stand out for me, but it honestly could have been ruined with sub-par acting. As such, I do have to give considerable credit to all of the actors for taking it there with their performances.

While the film itself is marketed as a horror-comedy, there is a lot more horror than comedy as the film progresses. Like, it gets pretty bleak at some points with the torture sequences that happen between the group of kids and the captured ghoul. We get walked through the various ways the teenagers brutally assault and disfigure the ghoul which, when you cast someone like Lin Pei-hsin, you’re going to completely well up in tears and pray that someone comes to save her. While I do think the torture scenes did help solidify to the audience how awfully terrible these teenagers were, I think the film would have benefited from editing down the amount or perhaps the length of the torture sequences because – at times – it did feel more redundant and didn’t further the develop of either the characters or the storyline. However, there might be some who would rather the torture scenes remain untouched because they are the most horror-related elements in this film. So, this particular opinion might be the more polarizing aspects of this film.

Overall, MON MON MON MONSTERS will most likely be a polarizing film in as much as it will possibly depress you. Due in part to the direction as well as the writing by Giddens Ko, you will find yourself sympathizing immensely with the ghouls in this film while also wishing frantically that the teenagers will all get their comeuppance. While the film may be a bit hard to stomach in terms of rewatchability due to the torture sequences and the generally unlikeable characters, those two elements come together in tandem with the strong script to make a strong film. And, ultimately, it shows us the immensely dark grey area answer to the questions I posed at the very beginning of this review. Are humans the ones we need to be protected from? Quite possibly, but there is hope that not all humans are monsters. And that hope lives on within the last couple of minutes of the film’s run.

MON MON MON MONSTERS will release DVD and Blu-ray on February 4, 2020. Interested in learning more about the film? Go HERE.

Sarah Musnicky
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