There is no struggle more classic than man versus beast. More specifically, there’s no story more timeless than the battles of heroes and monsters. Literature, legend, and, of course, cinema love a good creature feature. Monstrum is a return to form and hits all the notes of a great monster movie, with a sophisticated edge that keeps the entire film refreshing and exciting.
In the 16th century, a time of political unrest and fear, a plague is wiping out the villagers on Mount Inwangsan. Rumors begin to spread of a vicious monster that is responsible for bringing the plague and slaughtering entire villages. In response, the King calls his most trusted general and a band of heroes out of retirement to get to the bottom of things. They will discover that the real threat may not simply be the beast itself… but something much more sinister.
Monstrum stars Woo-sik Choi (Parasite, Train to Busan), In-kwon Kim, Myung-Min Kim, and Hyeri Lee. The film is helmed by co-writer and director Jong-ho Huh, and co-written by Heo-dam. Monstrum has already won over audiences as an Audience Award Winner at the Sitges International Film Festival and is sure to find just as much adoration on Shudder.
As I mentioned at the outset, the story of mighty heroes fighting horrifying monsters is the most classic story of all time. Ancient cultures explained the unknown phenomena of nature and environment through powerful deities and horrible monsters. The legends of those gods, monsters, and heroes are the most enduring in culture. Monster legends inform every culture, through every period in history. Greek mythology. St. George and the dragon. Clash of the Titans. Creature from the Black Lagoon. And now: Monstrum.
It’s so fantastic to see Monstrum be so unapologetically classical as a film. Creature features have been a staple of the horror genre for as long as there have been horror movies, and Monstrum is such a proud entry to that tradition. The minimalist plot and execution are far from pretentious. It’s just basic, great filmmaking around one awesome creature.
That being said, Monstrum benefits immensely from very sophisticated writing that takes this solid creature feature to the highest level! The writers brilliantly snuck a historical political thriller into this monster movie! Allegedly, Monstrum is based on the early writings of 16th century rulers. Some of those rulers note the existence of a monster that stalks the palace. In this contemporary interpretation of those old texts, the monster takes mighty and horrible form and the political unrest of the period is played to delightful and devious effect.
The big mystery of Monstrum is the question of whether or not the monster is real. In the first act of the film, we see warring factions and corruption. The monster quite possibly exists, or it is an invention of a corrupt taskforce that is hell-bent on genocide. Just as the Greeks named the sun Helios and gave it form, these corrupt fighters invent a monster to stoke fear in plague-riddled villagers and to provide an excuse for the slaughter they committed. The first act of the film is incredibly suspenseful, as the complexity of the nation’s political relations unfold alongside the hunt for a stalking beast.
Horror has always been a natural carrier for social and cultural commentary. Monsters operate very much the same way. A creature can carry a strong message in a film and the beast of Monstrum contains multitudes. The monster is a symbol of corruption, as we see an innocent creature transformed into a destructive force by the carelessness of man. There’s an environmentalist allegory hidden in there, folks. The monster is a poster child for man’s own selfish fears and uncertainties.
What we learn, as we take in Monstrum, is that monsters are created. They are the result of paranoia, or wickedness, or greed, or fear of the unknown. A monster is born out of how we respond to our world. For such a simple story of man and beast, the creature of Monstrum carries multitudes. The thesis statement of Monstrum is illustrated in the way the creature impacts the audience. The creature is beautifully designed and has the unique ability to terrify, while at the same time tugging on your heartstrings. The creation and execution of the film’s titular monster alone is worth the audience’s time and investment.
Monstrum comes with my highest recommendation. It hits all the desired beats of a great creature feature, but has so much more simmering beneath the surface. Monstrum has made this critic instantly fall in love, and the creature is an icon in the making. Brilliant performances from the ensemble cast and an excellent instinct for suspense and tension solidify this as a must-watch.
Monstrum is streaming now on Shudder.
Movie Score: 5/5