Review by Sean Boelman
Directed by Jong-ho Huh, Monstrum is an epic new Korean monster movie set in the 16th Century. With themes that are eerily timely given the state of society now, but a script that doesn’t quite know how to use them, this is an entertaining watch even if it doesn’t live up to its full potential.
The film takes place in a kingdom ravaged by plague and paranoia as panic begins to brew over rumors of a vicious beast living in the mountains. Ultimately, the story is very interesting, and makes for a great action movie, but there are portions of the film that seem determined to be a creature-feature horror flick, and those are the portions that don’t work as well.
For about the first thirty or so minutes, it’s not really clear what the film wants itself to be, but when it finally finds its rhythm, it ends up being quite a lot of fun. That last hour runs like wild, and while it is admittedly a bit disorienting, it’s a crazy ride, and there aren’t many movies that come out like that anymore.
The message of the film is quite obvious, and the didacticism in the middle third is somewhat excessive, but the idea that humanity is the true monster is something that feels more relevant now than ever. It’s a message that’s very common to this particular subgenre of horror, yet people seem to keep making the same mistakes over and over again in real life.
Perhaps the thing that is going to make this movie less accessible to mainstream American audiences is its idiosyncratic tone. The film will switch in an instant between really dark and gruesome to surprisingly airy and goofy (a fart joke being the most memorable instance of the latter). Fans of Asian genre cinema will undoubtedly be familiar with this style, but it may be off-putting to the uninitiated.
On a technical level, there are a lot of things that work really well in this movie. The production design and costuming do an excellent job of making the viewer feel immersed in the period in which the film takes place. And even though one would think a giant CGI monster would be a significant distraction, the filmmakers do a good job of making its inclusion feel natural.
That said, undoubtedly the most impressive part of the movie is its action choreography. There’s a lot of swordplay, particularly in the first two acts, and this will make one wish that the filmmakers would have gone for more of a straightforward action picture than an action-horror hybrid. These scenes are shot in a very cinematic and exciting manner.
Monstrum is a very fun monster movie, and while it probably would have benefitted from having even more of its (excellent) action sequences, it’s satisfying nonetheless. It’s definitely good enough to be worth adding to your watchlist.
Monstrum streams on Shudder beginning May 14.