The latest acquisition and release by Shudder, Jong-Jo Huh’s Monstrum, isn’t your average horror film though there is a monster that terrorizes and frightens and kills...
...The story is about humanity and it’s the moments of human nature that make this film shine. This is particularly evident by the time the monster appears on the screen. You are so deeply engaged and have already begun to champion certain characters while rooting for the other’s downfall. Monstrum has all the right ingredients of a great film and the execution by every cast and crew member has created something magical.
The story takes place in Korea during the 16th century. While a plague rages through the nation, the rumblings of a monster have begun to make their way to King Jung Jong (Hee-Soon Park), who has (due to the political machinations and design of the Prime Minister) all but lost control of his kingdom. He decides he wants to lead an investigation to determine whether or not this monster even exists, or if it is a ploy to further distance himself from his people whom he wants to lead not through fear but compassion. The Prime Minister Sim Woon (Kyeong- yeong Lee) and the other ranking officials agree to this investigation, but the king wants his most trusted general Yoon-Gyeum (Myung-Ming Kim) to lead it. The only problem is, Yoon-Gyeum is retired and living peacefully in the mountains with his daughter Myung (Hyrie Lee) and his brother Sung Han (In-Kwon Kim). Their quiet existence is uprooted upon the arrival of The King’s faithful Officer Heu, played by Woo- Sik Choi, who had a star-making turn in Parasite.
The Majority of the film is told through the conflict between the Prime Minister and The King. It's a unique way to use the main cast, almost as if they were chess pieces in a game between two powerful figures. All the while, a monster lurks and causes chaos. However, it is the evil deeds of Sim Woon, his use of fear over people and his continual attempts to overthrow the King that end up having far more deadly effects than either the plague or the monster in Monstrum. Once the search for the truth begins after the setup, it’s off to the races and it’s a wild ride.
The coolest part about the script by Jeong-uk Byeon and Heo Dam is that it explores so many different genres. It’s equal parts mystery, comedy, procedural crime, feudal drama, and an action film. All of these elements add up to make the film feel entirely fresh. More scripts need to give themselves the opportunity to let loose and allow their stories to breathe.
One slight is the script’s use of flatulence humor, which I find always takes me out of any film almost immediately. However, the latter is definitely subjective as subjective gets, and for a film that opens with an immense tragedy, I was surprised by how often I was smiling and laughing during the entire runtime.
The greatest of Monstrum’s many strengths is its acting and how engaged you are by each and every performance. The film does a wonderful job of executing every emotion that is known to man. Within minutes of the film’s dire opening, a laugh comes from a brilliant performance, and then on a dime, you are thrust back into scenes of intensity or sorrow. It hangs in that delicate balance and it’s the performers who make or break a film so wonderfully constructed. For a film about a “monstrum,” I was left far more impressed by the cast.
The film's messaging never gets heavy-handed or preachy, though lurking beneath the surface, it has a lot to say. This is when a film is at its best, when it lets the viewer decide if they want to dig deeper. So, sit back and enjoy the ride.
Monstrum debuts on Shudder on Thursday, May 14th.
By Justin Drabek
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