There is a Monster has a genuine horror at its heart. That reality gives the menace throughout a potentially unsettling tinge fiction cannot replicate. However, certain limits in the presentation keep the claws of this creature from sinking in deep. What comes together is a great idea hampered by a somewhat fumbled execution.
The story involves Joey Collins as Jack, a successful photographer on the verge of bigger and better things. Just as his star is about to rise, troubling glimpses of a shadowy presence make him increasingly aware an entity is stalking him. Worse, every encounter with this being results in Jack’s body beginning to fail. Estranged from his wife and fearing others will consider him insane, he feels utterly alone. All the while, regardless of how much the dark presence cruelly toys with him, it is undeniably pushing him towards some inevitable sinister end.
Metaphorically speaking, There is a Monster tells a terrifying tale of degenerative illness. The shadowy entity cripples Jack in ways that may seem readily familiar to anyone even passingly acquainted with afflictions such as A.L.S., or muscular dystrophy. Symbolically, the nightmare of wasting away in an increasingly immobile body is well established in the movie. Joey Collins does a solid job of maintaining permanence whenever Jack acquires a new level of disability. Whether changing his speech patterns or losing the use of his hands and legs, such breakdowns remain throughout the film. And there’s an earnestness to their presentation, not to mention the overall narrative, that never feels gimmicky.
From another angle, There is a Monster is a story about isolation. The fact that Jack can be talking to someone yet feel completely unheard is evident in scenes such as his tearful frustrations following a fruitless doctor’s visit. The downside is such moments incline more towards drama rather than horror, a common oscillation throughout There is a Monster. It’s as if the film is rocking between genres without commitment.
Perhaps that’s why the movie tries to convey the possibility the malevolent presence may just be in Jack’s head. This seems intended to hook the audience in for a head trip all the way to the end. However, this has become such a common gimmick any which way the film goes is predictable. Consequently, viewers are simply left to see how the story plays out rather than surprised by the outcome.
What might have overcame this are some of the relationships on screen. Ena O’Rourke plays Jack’s estranged wife. Unfortunately, they have the chemistry of a couple in a late-night ad for E.D. medication. Their stilted exchanges don’t convey a broken marriage with embers of love still smoldering at the core. Rather, they seem like roommates awkwardly living together after a regrettable one-night stand with one another.
Marcellus Bassman Shepard does a solid job as Jack’s best friend David. However, the character is underutilized. He possesses the potential to highlight the supernatural side of the story, yet There is a Monster never explores that aspect. Perhaps attempting to provide ambiguity the character got left behind. Still, Marcellus and Joey Collins do have some easygoing dialogue with one another that feels like genuine friends.
Similar pitfalls plague the other performances. For instance, the opening of the movie does a great job of establishing Jack’s relationship with his assistant Billy, played by Jesse Milliner. The banter between the two feels natural, and the two performers seem to have a friendly chemistry. Yet, that same ease of exchange disappears when heavier scenes play out towards the end, especially as Jack becomes noticeably more impaired. And a lack of chemistry hampers dramatic moments between Suzy (MerryRose Howley) and Joey Collins. Their flirtations and Jack’s attempts to stop a potential affair come across like a high school counseling lecture.
I wouldn’t put the weight of this failing solely on the performers. The dialogue they’re given isn’t always silk. Conversations don’t feel smooth, though they do speak to writer-director Mike Taylor’s history making commercials. The banter between characters often comes closer to infomercial exchanges than interpersonal chats. Though there are occasional exceptions, such as a lunch conversation between Ena O’Rourke and Kelly Schwartz, character interactions in There is a Monster are frustratingly inconsistent in quality when they aren’t outright repetitive.
Writer-director-producer Mike Taylor does the most he can with a clearly small budget. Films such as 2011’s Absentia have done some impressive things with minimal money on hand. And similar vibes can be felt throughout There is a Monster, so far as working around a creature concept that can’t be afforded. Every effort is made to keep the dark stalker out of focus and in the shadows. Unfortunately, it’s hard to suspend disbelief when the entity is clearly someone in an all-black zentai suit.
The downside is mainly due to there being an instance of it working for the most part. There is a nightmare sequence that is just shy of working well. The distorted entity is hard to perceive, yet this haunting blob is far more unnerving than what audiences often get glimpses of.
There is a Monster is a film with an interesting concept. The metaphorical nature of its horror hits at the heart of certain real afflictions in a way that comes across genuinely trying to let others understand a terror they may have zero experience with. Sadly, stilted exchanges of varying quality between performers who don’t always have the best chemistry make this less of a dramatic horror story and more of a late-night public service announcement about the terror of having a degenerative disease. Low budget limitations may explain, even forgive certain lesser quality aspects of the film, but they can’t entirely excuse a creature that comes across as a malevolent version of Green Man.
The earnestness with which performers, especially Ena O’Rourke and Joey Collins, try to convey things is admirable even if a bit heavy handed. The real downside is the lack of horror. There is a Monster just doesn’t scare the way it wants.