AKA Monster Party
Genre hopping movies that suddenly draw a dramatic line under the first forty-five minutes of a narrative aren’t often a thing for one reason or another, despite the best efforts Takashi Miike and Robert Rodriguez or even more recent releases from Adam Wingard. I guess it’s because while genre film fans might enjoy the rug being pulled out from under them every so often, generally speaking it takes a lot of guts to try. More than that it takes a lot of sharply honed movie making craft to pull off. Which is probably why this tale of burglars, killers and basement dwellers sometimes feels a little skittish and disjointed, though I still have to give them some points for trying.
The opening of the film sets this weirdly disconnected tone in motion as a brief early morning montage introduces the Dawson Family, a sinister clan of wealthy but dysfunctional Malibu residents. However without much in terms of exploration the film quickly side steps into another story about house breakers trying to take advantage of the rich. It’s a plot that borrows from Don’t Breathe with its use of young characters in bad situations that are about to become worse, and there are a few brief lines that suggest their plight. There’s not a lot to go on as Dodge (Brandon Micheal Hall) and Iris (Virginia Gardner) are apparently low on cash and want to start a family, but aren’t shown to be in a situation which is particularly tough.
Elsewhere electronics wizard Casper (Sam Strike) has more obvious problems at home, and we learn more about his character motivation – a dead beat dad and a nasty loan shark. It’s pretty trite but at least it’s something I guess. There’s a lot of jumpy editing and sudden noises in the first act which really should have been replaced with actual mood building and suspense, but there are a lot of short cuts being used here. Casper suddenly needs money, and of course the gang already know just where to find it . Soon enough he’s with Dodge posing as Iris’s catering pals so they can infiltrate the Dawson household, which is where things all start to get a whole lot weirder.
The trio find themselves at the centre of a pretty strange gathering in which family father Patrick (Julian McMahon) is the strange host for a lot of very strange people. All Casper has to do is keep it together and disable the alarms so that Dodge can access the family safe, which seems to be hidden behind some kind of… Hieronymus Bosch fan art? There are many questions. How can they cut power and block camera feeds to single rooms? It’s not a convincing high tech heist, but this is a wholly low budget affair and a few unlikely looking props are to be expected. The details aren’t important, what is important is the big gathering and what Patrick has hidden in the basement.
There’s a lot of over acting and scenery chewing, particularly from the younger guests who seem to be in a permanently crude mindset whether it’s because of their over sexed attitudes or all the drugs they’re taking. Chester Rushing seems to be taking his obnoxious character from Stranger Things and dialling way up to new levels, while Erin Moriarty seems to be playing the world’s twitchiest mother and is constantly on the verge of a tearful meltdown. However the real star of the show is Lance Reddick as Milo, the guest of honour who claims everyone present are his ‘graduates’. It’s a weird bug eyed performance as he shifts effortlessly from inspirational speaker to ultra violent cult leader at the drop of a hat, and it’s a shame his entrance to the film isn’t a whole lot earlier.
At the heart this is a splatter movie and it’s soon obvious that everyone in attendance is a recovering from something more nefarious than simple alcohol or cocaine addiction. During the second act it all goes off the rails and all the simpering creeps start to let their true colours show. It’s not the greatest reveal ever (those expecting Society or Audition might be let down) but there’s enough blood letting and brain splattering to sate the gore hounds out there for a minute or two. If it was all tightened up the sluggish pacing early on might be more forgivable, but it does at least have a few hilarious surprises towards the end that tip the absurd scales that bit further over the edge.
It’s a super cheap and sometimes cheerful affair although it’s definitely not a comedy (the various other films sharing this same title might be a better match) beyond Milo’s occasional outbursts and a few instances of Patrick twirling his moustache. A few vaguely neon sets and a couple of Chromatics-lite sounding tunes give it a boost in style but it’s all generally a bit flat. It’s often just dumb and crazy in ways that will appeal to some but frustrate others, particularly when it takes so long to reach the weirder sequences.
The line between dull and outlandish is… a pretty broad one. They really should have pushed so much further into the wackier ideas presented, both in terms of production design on display and characters included. Still, there are a lot of entertaining bits every so often even if they’re not evenly spread. Less is sometimes more but in this case I’d have to say excess is a necessity.