Review by Jay Bowman
A wise-cracker, a film maker, and a junkie walk into a spooky house.
Okay, let me back up. Friends Jamal (Jamal Quezaire) and Devon (Justin Bruening) have developed a following online for staging footage of supernatural happenings. Devon wants to make a “real” documentary about “real” monsters to make it big. They enlist the help of recovering drug addict Bryan (Toby Hemmingway) and Devon’s bitter ex Murielle (Murielle Zuker) to record interviews with a self-proclaimed skinwalker, an apparent vampire, and the victim of demonic possession. The entire movie is being filmed by the characters in a constant first person perspective.
In Monster Project we have the makings of a found footage movie that requires you to ignore a lot of the logic of found footage (Who found this footage? Since we’re jumping from perspective to perspective, who actually edited the footage? Given the implications of the ending, why would anyone release the footage?) The night vision shaky camera treatment doesn’t add anything to the mix outside of setting up jump scares which, as an audience, we’ve been trained to anticipate by the last ten years of found footage movies. The film takes it a step further by signaling the scares with visual glitches moments before. If you’re looking for a good scare, this isn’t it.
As for the story the first half sets up an interesting drama as the four characters must set aside their fractured personal relationships for the sake of their working relationships in the pursuit of fame. Once they realize their interviewees are actual monsters this element is totally lost as we watch the the four struggle to escape from the previously mentioned spooky house.
To put it bluntly, it’s flat. Outside of two standout performances (Hemmingway’s timid Bryan and Shiori Ideta as the demon-possessed Shiori) the main characters don’t have any significance outside of their relationships with each other (which is unfortunate for Jamal, who has the least development of the four). There’s a twist at the end that was given a little setup but still feels like a hail Mary to try and differentiate the story from everything else in the genre. It’s here where the remaining dialog goes full comic book super-villain and the acting equally silly. I really, really, really want to spoil it just because of the numerous questions that arise from it, but I won’t: I don’t want to ruin anyone’s first impression of the swanky tall goat-head hat.
Honestly, Monster Project’s biggest sin is the found footage angle. Ignoring that the genre has been ridden pretty hard in the past decade or so, it doesn’t do much to set it apart from the crowd. It can be a great way to mask an indie film’s shortcomings, but it also gets grating after awhile when half of the film is people running, screaming, and running from screaming things. If we’d spent more time with the characters beforehand it might be more tense. Instead you’re left hoping for a sudden twist to keep your attention.