THE CREATURES TALK AMONG US

THE MONSTER PROJECT (15)

Director:  Victor Mathieu

Screenplay: Corbin Billings, Shariya Lynn, Victor Mathieu

Starring: Toby HemingwayJustin BrueningMurielle Zuker 

Review: David Stephens

Arguably, the most famous piece of scary found-footage involving a “monster” doesn’t come from the fevered imagination of a genre filmmaker. And it doesn’t follow the screamy tribulations of naïve documentarians stuck in a dark forest. Nope. That would be the infamous Patterson-Gimlin film (which celebrated its 50th anniversary last month), the shaky grainy footage of an alleged IRL Sasquatch plodding away from the camera. Since then in the entertainment world, the found-footage format has recorded everything from zombies (“Rec”), trolls (“Troll Hunter”), witches (hazard a guess!), and pretty much every creature you can think of in the genre, with examples far too numerous to mention. Here we have another FF film, charting the supernatural shenanigans recorded by documentary makers with some ill-advised motives. It’s “The Monster Project”, a 2017 US horror directed by Victor Mathieu (maker of the upcoming “CarnieVille”), and starring Toby Hemingway (“Black Swan”). Branching off from the usual mockumentary angle, it details the efforts of a group of friends attempting to interview supposed “monsters”. Released in the US during August, it is now available on DVD and VOD in the UK. So YGROY gets our freak on (although we steadfastly refuse to “biggie-biggie-bounce” thank you very much) and prepares for a viewing…

It starts with a night-vision camera viewpoint of the interior of a house. Frightened breathing behind the lens identifies Jamal (Jamal Quezaire) as the cameraman, who is being spooked by noises on outside of the building. As he continues to film, he clambers towards the roof before catching sight of a creature and tumbling to the ground. All is not what it appears though, as Devon (Justin Bruening) enters the scene. It’s part of a set-up between the two would-be filmmakers to create another viral video to get the views. This is just the beginning though, as Devon is masterminding a documentary called “The Monster Project” to interview “real-life monsters”… or at least those individuals that think they are. To this end, he tries to employ his ex-girlfriend Murielle (Murielle Zuker… yes, there is a touch of the “Blair Witch” name-game going on) and her deeply-friend-zoned buddy Bryan (Hemingway), as help on the filming. Bryan is struggling with some monsters of his own being an ex-addict, and there is still bad-blood between the ex-lovers. Nonetheless, they agree to band together and find themselves three prospective interviewees on the web; a “Skinwalker” (werewolf to you and me), a vampire, and a possessed girl. The filming is set to take place within a boarded-up old house and during a lunar eclipse. What could possibly go wrong?

As we often say with found-footage films, this is another offering that won’t change your mind if you’re an affirmed hater of the format. A very large portion of this particular movie is filmed in POV and green night-vision, so this isn’t going to be your cup of blood if you’re twitching nervously at the very thought of that. However, just like the recent “Hell House LLC” and any other film in the sub-genre, it’s the style and content that decides whether it’s watchable and not the format…

To begin with, in all honesty the plot and set-up doesn’t hold a great deal of promise. The false start feels a bit cheesy and like all FF films, you have to get over the hurdle of just why everything is being filmed. In fact, Devon even points that out by saying; “You know why your camera batteries are always dead? Because you keep filming stupid shit!” This is laboured in later scenes, where characters are wearing head and body-cams that they keep filming with, under mortal duress and for absolutely no reason. In fact, the sheer amount of time the footage is in night-vision will be irksome to many. In terms of characterisation, only Bryan is really fleshed out, and in the initial scenes Jamal comes across as the obvious comic-relief character. Don’t take a shot every time he says; “Oh, Hell no!”

But once some backstory is established and we get to the actual “interview” sections, things start to radically improve and look-up. The interview with Steven (the Skinwalker) is quite atmospheric, and the section with the blood-drinking Shayla (Yvonne Zima) is playful and good fun. It even skewers a few cliché’s; with a nice explanation as to why you don’t see vampires in daylight… and it’s not because they’ll burst into flames or anything. Some previous little subliminal glitches and visual tricks are also brought into play, which hint at exactly what’s coming.

Once the final phase of the plot kicks-in… it goes for it at full-throttle. It mostly consists of first-person perspective as set-pieces with the aforementioned monsters come into play, and it’s all done surprisingly well given the Indie and crowd-funded credentials. The fight-scenes play out like a sub-budget version of “Hardcore Henry” (remember that wonderfully nutty Sharlto Copley crowd-pleaser? Or not…), with the head-cam wearer plunging through building floors before being vomited on, or having an in-your-face possession attempt by a demon, or a body-cam wearing monster chasing its victims. The special effects are quite pleasingly done as well, especially with toothy Skinwalkers and black-eyed demons. Yes, it’s just a long sequence of the protagonists being chased (or worse) around a house, and it’s basically the visual equivalent of a video game (the recent re-vamped “Resident Evil 7” would be a good comparison). But it’s done well and is quite effective in its verve and intensity.

It does borrow from some obvious sources (apart from all the “Blair Witch”-vision of course). The fact that the possessed girl is Asian with long lank brunette hair and pale skin is an obvious call-back to J-horror… not to mention the blatant “Exorcist” spider-walk that she does at one point. But it’s all mashed together at such an irresistible pace, that it barely matters. There’s also room for some nice little nightmarish moments (the Skinwalker snarling outside of the cupboard) and a neat little sequence at the end that provides some extra relish on your monster sandwich… even if it’s a little guessable.

In summary, this is a neat low-budget FF film that gets better as it goes along, and exceeds your initial expectations. The cast do well with the material, and it all feels wonderfully driven and entertaining, if not completely original. As always, the sheer nature of the FF visuals and the ever questionable logic are going to excuse some from its pleasures, as certain fans may not be able to get on with the format or necessary plot-devices. But overall this is another above-average offering in the sub-genre, that turns out to be rather more entertaining and innovative than you would expect. One project you won’t mind managing…

DVD Extras: Nope. Project must have overrun its budget. Nothing here.

November 19, 2019

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“Monster Project” isn’t startlingly original, and there are some misgivings about the early portions of the story which seem very generic. But as the plot starts in earnest, it becomes a frenetic house of horrors filmed at a breakneck pace. Whilst there are plenty of tropes thrown about, it’s done with some style and verve, as it sweeps you away with some decent action and SFX. Not one for FF haters, but not freakin’ bad…
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