★ ★ ★ out of ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
A young couple who have achieved minor celebrity status through a YouTube jump-scare pranking show, and find themselves victims of their own success as their weekend getaway finds them terrified and trying to escape a wicked and deadly plot against them and, curiously, a ghost.
Directed by Justin Harding and Rob Brunner
Making Monsters opens with a helicopter shot of a naked man fleeing in a meadow from a masked pursuer with a sniper rifle and a wicked-looking kukri blade. The man doesn’t stand a chance, and is brutally taken down… a grim table setting for this tale. Cut to a bridal dress fitting, where we are introduced to our main characters.
Christian Brand (Tim Loden) is a digital prankster who has reached ten million fans on his YouTube channel where he dresses up in costume and jump scares his fiancée, Allison (Alana Elmer) into histrionics. Chris puts on a mask and manages to surprise the easily spooked Allie during the fitting, and she is not amused. Chris thinks his C-list celebrity speaks of the power of the life-affirming power of being scared and he is empowering people to embrace their own fears, but really, he is a grown man with some maturity issues. Allie has been worn down by all his shenanigans and wants to settle down and have a baby. No more jump scares please! Chris is forced to decide between his baby (The channel) and a potential real baby.
They accept an invitation from one of Chris’ old friends, Jesse (King Chiu), who bought a church out in the country to live with his new husband David. Who knows? It could be romantic enough to get that baby making started! When Chris and Allie arrive at the church, Jesse isn’t home yet, so they are entertained by the eccentric David (Jonathan Craig) and the three of them eat, drink, and party to the wee hours of the morning. When morning comes, things have completely changed. David is missing. Allie encountered a bloody apparition of a ghost, who abducted her in the middle of the night. When Chris wakes, he finds Allie standing in the backyard, naked in the snow. The heat is off, their phones are missing, the car is gone, and they have found hidden video cameras in the house. What’s more, four days seem to have passed while they were asleep.
Chris and Allie have had their existence flipped. Now, the joke is on them, and it’s about to get very violent. It’s not just the ghost they have to worry about. Someone is hunting them for some strange and unknown reason, and now the lovely church they are in has become the proverbial cabin in the woods.
Making Monsters is a good example of the current trend in independent horror films to utilize a small cast and make a horror film built on the power of the protagonists’ relationships. The dialogue is crisp enough that you don’t ever feel bogged down by the narrative. Directors Justin Harding and Rob Brunner provided this film with excellent pace, and it never got dull. When the violence comes, it is impactful, bloody, and dreadful. You grow to know these characters and when bad things happen, you FEEL it. The acting is excellent throughout.
Good Indie comparable films, by feel, would be What Keeps You Alive, Creep, and Hammer of the Gods. These movies play out almost like stage dramas, with the relationships as the central parts of the drama, and the horror being the connective tissue and the closing punchline. There is a very personal feel for these movies. Though the story arc is largely through Chris, we see the world through Allie’s eyes. She’s the sensible and suspicious one, while he is a tad reckless and impulsive.
I do have issues with some of the character’s decisions. When given the opportunity to run from a dangerous location, forget what you may have left behind, don’t go back! (Granted, the audience informed that the whole thing is a trap, but they don’t know that.) Also, the inclusion of the ghost was, for me, unclear until I saw the credits roll, and I pieced together what the ghost was doing.
Also, I think the movie lacked a focus as to where the horror should be. The ghost seems like a bit of a feint, but they may have believed that they needed to make the story more complex. The movie felt at times that it wanted to be a stalker/thriller movie, and at other times a ghost story. The two never really married up properly, and I hate to say it, but could have used a bit of exposition to explain the ghostly actions. In the end, I got it, but I would have like to have been clued in earlier.
There are some lovely layered ironies regarding Chris’ YouTube antics that echo the tales of E.C. Comics of yore. Those classic comic books would often prop up the characters and put them into a morality play with a bitter ironic twist. Gotcha endings. I told you so moments. Those who engage in prideful, selfish, cruel, or foolish behavior will have it come back to you in spades. And once Chris gets the full dose of the understanding why this is happening to them, he realizes all of his preening about the power of the scare has come back to bite him in the butt.
Making Monsters was playing at FilmQuest in Provo, and is still in its early run in the festival circuit. This film is not yet rated, but I would plug this in solidly as an R. The violence in the third act is visceral and disturbing, and there are some baby-making attempts.