The mid-eighties saw the appearance of the consumer camcorder and with it a whole new generation of amateur movie makers. Andrew, my Maniacs and Monsters co-host, and I spent many a weekend, late night, and summer break creating cinematic masterpieces with our friends. Most commonly, the artistic process involved the realization that we had a camcorder and some time to kill. Plot, dialog, costumes, and staging were all limited to what we could think of in the moment. Occasionally, however, aspirations ran a little higher and we worked off an actual script. In those instances, the responsibility for directing and editing would fall on my neighbour, Dale Andrews. I offer this brief history to provide full disclosure that I am friends with Dale, although we have not seen each other since those high school days. Dale Andrews is the executive producer of the film, Making Monsters, which recently made its Canadian premiere at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival.
Making Monsters is the feature debut of directors Justin Harding and Rob Brunner and was also written by Harding. It tells the tale of Allison Clements (Alana Elmer) and Christian Brand (Tim Loden), a soon-to-be-married couple trying to have a baby. Christian is the creator and host of the very popular YouTube prank channel Branded. On Branded, Christian creates shocks by jumping out dressed in various costumes and masks. The victim of these jump scares is usually, if not exclusively, Allison. If that sounds a bit too repetitive to maintain an audience of ten million subscribers, you will have to allow the filmmakers their artistic license. If this also makes it seem like Christian is a bit of a jerk, I would have to agree with you. His reaction when Allison asks him to stop pranking her only fuels that opinion. I was certain that Christian was intended to be one of those horror movie characters the viewers cannot wait to see killed. I was pleased to discover that, first impressions notwithstanding, Harding’s writing and Loden’s portrayal avoided that trope.
Christian and Allison run into Jessie (King Chiu), an old friend of Christian’s. Jessie tells them that he and his fiancé, David, have moved out to the countryside and live in a repurposed church. He invites the couple to come stay for the weekend. When Christian and Allison arrive, Jessie has been delayed on business but they meet David (Jonathan Craig) who excitedly welcomes them not only as friends of Jessie but also as internet celebrities. David is apparently a big fan of Branded.
The three settle in for dinner and an evening of drinking and recreational drug use. This seems a little out of character for Allison who was very concerned about making her body the ideal vessel for conception and child bearing. But, who am I to judge her life choices? During the intoxicated party that follows, Allison perceives an eerie and unsettling apparition but writes it off as an effect of the drugs. Her momentary feelings of unease, however, are precursors to the horrors to be faced when the party ends.
Making Monsters looks quite good. There is some use of shaky camera techniques but they are used sparingly and appropriately to the story rather than forced upon it. Aside from the use of, perhaps, an unusually high number of shots with cast members looking directly into the camera, the cinematography does not reveal its independent film status. The special effects makeup is impressive and suitably scary. Likewise the cast are effective in their portrayals. Tim Loden is able to give Christian a little depth as a guy that can be insensitive, selfish, and pouty but is also likable, caring, and capable of drunken moments of sincerity. He and Alana Elmer make a believable couple. Elmer gets credit for what looks like an exhausting performance. As their ordeal unfolds, the psychological impact on Allison is as tangible as the physical. Not to mention, in one scene Elmer looks like she is legitimately freezing. Jonathan Craig rounds out the trio with a quirky but not over-the-top performance. Craig projects the right amount of self-conscious, clownish oddball to put the couple, and the audience, just slightly on edge.
One aspect in which the film may be showing its modest budget is the size of the cast. The film focuses on Loden, Elmer, and Craig with only a few additional supporting roles. Therefore, if you are looking for a high body count, you had best look elsewhere. But then, Making Monsters is not intended to be a mere string of mindless butchering (which is not to look down on those types of movies). A supernatural element coexists with the more slasher-like traits of the film and, while the merger is not entirely seamless, it does add an entertaining additional layer to the horror.
If I can raise one quibble with Making Monsters it is that the villain uses, among other weapons, a high-powered rifle. At one point in the film, there is a brief mention of gore fans and some of the gruesome ways they want to see victims meet their end. They are described as sick and, given the context, that assessment is hard to argue against. But, what most of those methods of bloodshed entail is a hands-on, close-up approach. Force a killer into close proximity with his/her prey and you give the victims a fighting chance, albeit a slim one. When faced with a gun, what hope is left?
I realize that complaint is based more on personal preference then any real fault of the film. The use of the rifle makes complete sense within the confines of the narrative. You could argue that it is a much more practical weapon and thus adds a degree of realism. It certainly does not detract from the story. Overall, Making Monsters is an entertaining film and an ambitious first feature for Harding and Brunner. There may only be a few actual scares but the film creates suspense and maintains tension throughout. I recommend you check out this little independent film when you get the chance and I look forward to seeing what this team will come up with next.
Making Monsters (2019) Directed by Justin Harding & Rob Brunner; Written by Justin Harding; Starring Alana Elmer, Tim Loden, Jonathan Craig, Jarrett Siddall, & King Chiu.
Making Monsters has been touring the film festival circuit and made its Canadian premiere at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival on October 20th. It can next be seen at Nightmares Film Festival in Columbus, Ohio, HorrOrigins in Atlanta, Georgia, and Celluloid Screams in Sheffield, England all on Saturday, October 26th.