Studio: Epic Pictures Group
Director: Victor Mathieu
Writer: Victor Mathieu, Shariya Lynn, Corbin Billings
Producer: Victor Mathieu, Phillip Sebal, Mike Burkenbine, Corbin Billings
Stars: Justin Bruening, Murielle Zuker, Jamal Evans, Yvonne Zima, Steven Flores, Shiori Ideta, James Storm, Susan Stangl, Toby Hemingway
Four amateur filmmakers become trapped in a mansion while interviewing three people who claim to be actual monsters.
While we aren’t out of the woods, pun intended, entirely on “found footage” oversaturation, the subgenre at least appears to have temporarily turned away from regular releases featuring amateur documentarians spelunking in haunted hospitals. The new challenge among indie horror moviemakers is to come up with a concept fitting for a first-person frame, without simply aping everything already done in “The Blair Witch Project” (review here), “Paranormal Activity” (review here), etc., etc., and then some.
Recent years have seen films including “Afflicted” (review here), “The Taking of Deborah Logan” (review here), and “Delivery: The Beast Within” (review here) tweak the formula just enough to stand out from the “found footage” flotsam choking every VOD streaming service in existence. According to the movie’s marketing, Victor Mathieu’s “The Monster Project” proposes to join the ranks of these one-of-a-kind “found footage” films with an inventive take on the format.
For a few minutes here and there in the first act, it appears as though the movie might make its name by way of drawn out drama creating characters with a big bite of depth. Once those characters become trapped in a haunted house for the climax, it starts seeming like the film isn’t as unique as it aims to be. By the time it reaches the back half, “The Monster Project” fully degrades into a noisy corridor sprint of heroes shouting “ah!” and villains screaming “boo!” for an effort joining the jetsam lamented in paragraph two.
Devon and Jamal have scared up tens of thousands of hits by creating fake monster attack videos that they post online as real. To increase their audience, Devon wonders, why not find some actual monsters and capture them on camera instead?
Devon has good fortune, because a vampire, a Native American skinwalker, and a woman possessed by a demon all happen to be cruising Craigslist classifieds looking for opportunities to exploit their supernatural abilities. Devon quickly has a trio of terrors on tap for interviews. Now he needs a complete crew.
First to reluctantly join the team is Jamal’s roommate Bryan. Bryan creates a somewhat sticky situation in that he is a recovering drug abuser. Not only that, but Bryan has romantic eyes for his good friend Murielle. That’s trouble because Murielle is Devon’s ex-girlfriend, and their relationship ended badly. Not so badly however, that Murielle’s career goals would conflict with their amour animosity. So when Devon makes her an offer to be his project’s director, Murielle accepts.
All of these soap opera setups initially stage the story as being about a man wrestling with addiction in a weird love triangle while an innocent roommate is caught in the middle. With everyone driven by dreams of becoming a Hollywood big shot to boot, “The Monster Project” starts off as something like Backstage West presents MTV’s “The Real World.”
Bryan’s struggle with sobriety, Murielle’s unresolved anger toward her ex, Devon’s unfettered ambition, and Jamal’s… whatever he has going on, don’t do much to power their own subplots. Following scene after scene of confessions, confrontations, and additional exposition, one starts wishing everyone would just go to a haunted asylum after all, as at least something stimulating might finally happen.
Considering the effort “The Monster Project” mounts to put these conflicts in play, the routine reality show melodrama doesn’t pay off anyway. Devon and Bryan don’t really get into a row over Murielle. Murielle’s directing dream immediately eradicates further stabs at closure with Devon. Jamal gets into it with Bryan over lying about drugs, though Bryan’s climb toward redemption loses out on acquiring an emotional hook.
This is because the film’s second half is simply the quarreling quartet running a Halloween haunt gauntlet as they flee from and fight with the creature trio. It’s not a story. It’s not even scary. It’s a series of frightening faces lunging at the camera in monochromatic night vision.
The long home stretch of “The Monster Project” is everything audiences typically dislike about “found footage.” Blurry shots as the handheld camera bounces frantically back and forth. Inconsequential dialogue consisting of characters saying things such as, “c’mon! It won’t open! Move, move! Sh*t! F*ck! Hurry!” How about reasons to wonder, “why are they still filming and who found this footage?”
One logic leap regarding the latter involves the fact that the skinwalker wears a body camera because he is a Navajo reservation police officer. Said camera conveniently stays on him even in creature form, with one guess as good as another as to how someone obtained his video after the fact.
Maybe fans of films like “The Houses October Built” (review here) or “Hell House LLC” (review here) will appreciate the Halloween maze feel of the film’s frenetic finale. Anyone burned out on first-person frights however, best reconsider taking this particular trip.
Review Score: 35