★★ out of ★★★★★
Have a great idea for a horror movie? Here’s a perfect example of how to make your great idea almost completely unwatchable!
Directed by Jay Dahl
Oh, shaky cam. Back in the heady days post-The Blair Witch Project (1999) everyone’s camera was a-twitchin’ and a-shakin’. After a decade or so of that, most horror fans weren’t nearly as excited about motion sickness as they once were, but the quaking camera style was here to stay.
Which is unfortunate for writer/director Jay Dahl’s debut feature length project, There Are Monsters (2013).
While it’s nowhere near an original idea as it borrows heavily from Invasion of the Body Snatchers — take your pick as to which one; the original from 1956 or the most recent remake, Assimilate (2019) — Dahl’s There Are Monsters does have a fun story and some legitimately creepy ideas. For those not yet familiar with Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the story follows the main characters as they discover that everyone is slowly being replaced by an exact duplicate as something otherworldly aims to take over the planet.
As the titular monsters in There Are Monsters gradually reveal themselves to the general population, Dahl’s writing does a great job letting each character’s disbelief crumble away at its own pace. The script makes the process feel organic for each of the main characters and the actors, for the most part, do a good job putting it all up on screen.
Matthew Amyotte [The Corridor (2010)] as Terry and Kristin Langille [TV’s Haven (2013)] as Beth do the best job managing the shift from denial to questioning to horrified acceptance. Jeff, played by Guy Germain [TV’s Haven (2011)], is passable as the stubborn denialist while Dan [Jason Daley; TV’s Trailer Park Boys (2007)] tends to fade into the background.
Special effects are simple, but they get the job done. Most are in the same vein as the facial effects in Truth or Dare (2018), but nowhere near as annoying. The gore factor is extremely low; a few wobbly shots of something you might see at a butcher shop and that’s about it. The shocks in There Are Monsters are more of the jump scare variety which work well with the overall spookiness of the film.
Up to this point, the movie is actually decent, thought-provoking, and enjoyable. I’d go so far as to give it ★★★ or maybe as much as ★★★1/2 based on the story ideas and the level of acting in a low-budget film.
But… shaky cam.
The director’s decision to use extreme shaky cam for the entire movie pretty much ruins everything. First of all, the main characters in There Are Monsters are film students. Film students on the verge of graduating, in fact. They’re working on an assignment that involves recording a series of interviews with some successful alumni which the school will then use to recruit future students. Which begs the question: why the Hell are they all so astoundingly abysmal at using video cameras?
Are they all failing this class? Is the interview project some kind of remedial filmmaking exercise? Because they could seriously use a refresher course on things like “how to focus the camera” and “how to point the camera at what you want to record”. The idea that they’re film students just doesn’t fit with the ridiculous filming style.
The second major problem is that the overly-shaky shakiness continues even when the scene is obviously not being filmed by one of the inept film students. It’s perfectly acceptable to combine shaky cam footage with steady shots in a movie. Especially when your film contains scenes using both the first-person and third-person perspectives. Take the Friday the 13th fan film Never Hike Alone (2017) as a prime example. Torturing your viewers with out of focus extreme close ups and vertigo inducing camera work for no reason whatsoever just seems mean.
While There Are Monsters has a lot of good things going for it — one of my favorites being the very subtly hinted at idea that the Large Hadron Collider somehow allowed the monsters into our world — the purposefully frustrating film style effectively eliminates much of the enjoyment the movie could have provided. Instead, you spend your time yelling at the screen and cursing the film students for not paying attention in class.
Review by Robert Zilbauer.