Monster Party is a well-named film. Meaning it has a catchy title. It caught my interest. Especially when the film is described to be about a group of would-be thieves pretending to be caterers robbing a Malibu mansion, only they get more than they bargained for the from the seemingly benign party guests. See, I imagined it was a literal monster reference—vampires and wolfmen in every day guise, set loose to hunt down these fake catering sons of bitches. But it’s a descriptive monster reference, as in these are horrible people. Blood-thirsty lunatics. Depraved. Monsters.
Perhaps, then, much of my disappointment is owing to my own inflated sense of expectations and my inability to separate my own fancies from actual product. So what if it’s a group of serial killers having dinner who get interrupted by some Joe Shmos in the wrong place at the wrong time? It could work. Only, this party isn’t P Diddy’s, it’s barely making-rent Justin’s down the road in the valley. The Crystal is Andre. The caviar is Doritos, the generic kind. The guests aren’t Insta-worthy. It’s all just very derivative.
Director: Chris von Hoffman
Release Date: November 2, 2018
We begin with one of the weirdest openings ever. Even after completing the film, I’m not sure what the point of it is. You could cut it and it’d make no difference. In fact, you should cut it, because it’s just so … off. It sets a tone that’s more amateurish than professional, and it doesn’t do Monster Party any favors. Director Chris von Hoffman is helming his second feature, and it reads that way. This is in spite of the presence of one or two actors who might even have been A-list at some point in their career (Robin Tunney, Julian McMahon) You get the feeling they’re here for a cash grab, as shooting couldn’t have taken much more than a day or two.
That’s never a good sign for a film that describes itself as a mystery, even a horror/mystery/thriller. How can you build a lot of mystery in so little time?
But I digress. There’s some talent on set, but it’s not enough to compensate for the lack of direction or depth in the writing. It seems like a film that was made to house a few distinct ideas that von Hoffman had, thinking they would look really cool in a movie or, hey, that’s a great idea for a shot in a movie.
So all those ideas are crammed in here, but the glue holding them together is little more than spit and elbow grease, and if you’ve ever tried to actually build something with actual elbow grease, you know it’s not headed anywhere good.
Casper (Sam Strike), Dodge (Brandon Micheal Hall) and Iris (Virginia Gardner) really open the film, demonstrating their ability to conduct B&Es on suburban homes for peanuts, and generally some quick wit and ability to grift with the best of the average. After dividing their day’s take, Casper sets out to find his dad. Only, his dad isn’t home and something seems amiss. It turns out that Father Casper is in deep with some mob types, and unless Casper can get ONE BILLION DOLLARS (aka $10,000), they’re going to kill his daddy.
Casper enlists Dodge and Iris to help him get the money by doing what they do best, concocting wholly built-to-fail schemes to steal the money in one day before time’s up.
Enter some house that Iris knows about and has worked at as a waitress. It seems to fit the bill nicely for a mark, outside of the fact that they know Iris already. But the plan moves ahead anyhow. The film does have pace, and things continue to progress quickly. Is this the action, or the overly aggressive scoring that is often too dramatic for what’s happening in these early scenes? The scoring is just another example of the haphazard construction of the film, where the parts do not necessarily equal a whole.
At the Malibu mansion, the place our heroes are going to rob, we quickly learn that these party guests are more than just rich assholes, they’re a little off their hinges. In fact, they’ve been brought together here for a sort of Murderer’s AA, where they discuss how long they’ve been “sober” over dinner, all the while at least half their numbers demonstrate so little control it’s a miracle they haven’t murdered themselves by dinner, let alone gone any measurable amount of time without killing anyone else.
These points could be superficial and entirely me looking to gripe about something I don’t fully understand, only they’re supported by less ambiguous critical points: cutaways to dead bodies that are represented by terrible dummies, facsimile corpses almost comically bad; actual sausage links falling from a disemboweled killer meant to represent intestines; or an honest-to-Jebus wink noise when the ‘love interest’ winks at Casper.
The violence, when it strikes, is brutal, but then pulls back. The movie can’t decide if it’s horror or not. It suggests horror but plays it so subtlety I’m not sure it realizes what it is. Again, this could be explained by an overcritical eye, but it’s supported by the genre confusion for mystery and thriller too. It’s neither. There’s no mystery here, only a lot of juxtaposed backstory that is never explained. For example, how did a group of homicidal maniacs all come to know each other and form this Murderer’s Anonymous support group? How did their leader Milo (Lance Reddick) keep them all out of prison and form the group as he suggests? Why do at least 2 of their number not seem to be murderers at all? Why do another three of them seem to be actively looking to murder people at any moment? How do they have this mansion?
Just when you couldn’t possibly be more confused, or less informed, there’s the literal mutant in the basement. In the end, you see a murderer’s family photo that includes him, but you’ve literally known he’s coming from the moment you hear his screams drifting up from the cellar: they have a Sloth.
So, there aren’t too many twists or turns that will surprise you, except for the hero’s turn at the conclusion of the story, for the conclusion is nearly as odd as the opening.
There are moments that promise more than you get. There’s a poignant shot of one of the crazier crazies reclining in a blood-splattered tub that’s magnificent. There’s manic energy that needs to be reined in and directed properly rather than being fed more cocaine. There’s an attempt at something here, but if you want to see a group of killers brought together with an odd-man-out story component, it’s been done before and better. Heck, even 2010’s Predators is more a how-to than a comparison flick.