If you believe what goes on in movies, thieves really have to become more discerning about their potential targets. That’s the lesson one takes from Chris von Hoffmann’s horror film, which, like the 2016 hit Don’t Breathe, concerns a group of young criminals who get a lot more than they bargained for with their latest caper. Gleefully gory and darkly funny, Monster Party is the sort of extreme genre exercise that separates real fans from mere dilettantes.
The story concerns friends and criminal cohorts Dodge (Brandon Micheal Hall, currently starring on the CBS hit God Friended Me), Casper (Sean Strike) and Iris (Virginia Gardner), who traffic in small-scale burglaries. Casper specializes in disarming alarm systems, while Iris acts as a lookout, quick to distract residents coming home unexpectedly by delivering lengthy spiels about saving the rainforests.
When Casper’s father is held captive by a loan shark to whom he owes $10,000, the trio embarks on a riskier scheme. Iris, who works part time for a catering company, knows of a wealthy family, the Dawsons, that will be hosting a dinner party at its lavish Malibu mansion. The plan is for the three of them to simply show up for the gig and burglarize the house while the Dawsons and their guests are otherwise occupied.
Of the family members, mother Roxanne (Robin Tunney) and daughter Alexis (Erin Moriarty) seem nice enough, with the former expressing concern for the family pet who’s been consigned to the basement. The men are another story: father Patrick (Julian McMahon) seems thoroughly sleazy, while son Elliot is so blatantly creepy that he literally licks his lips. Things become even more disturbing with the arrival of the guests, who are all men except for one young woman who desperately mouths “Help me” to the fake caterers. It turns out that the party is some sort of 12-step meeting for recovering addicts, although to what exactly they’re addicted is left vague. For a while, at least.
It’s around the film’s halfway mark that things turn truly gonzo, and the violent mayhem only gets more baroque and excessive from then on. Suffice it to say that it involves killing and maiming with the use of such instruments as chainsaws, samurai swords, hatchets, guns and knives; a disturbing family photo that foreshadows a nasty surprise involving the family pet; a Saw-like scenario involving a diabolical game; and the family patriarch gleefully declaring, “I’m ready to make the Dawsons great again!”
Director-screenwriter von Hoffman’s delight in staging the exuberantly over-the-top proceedings proves infectious, with the film’s sly, satirical humor smarter than it needs to be. There are moments both shocking and hilarious, and, more unusually, some that are both. That’s not to say that anything that goes on in Monster Party is particularly original, merely that it’s executed with uncommon flair and skill.
McMahon, sporting the sort of facial hair that deliciously signifies his character is up to no good, entertainingly chews the scenery, while Tunney is all the more effective for her underplaying. Lance Reddick brings impressive gravitas to his role as the seeming voice of reason among the guests, and the younger performers, especially Strike and Gardner, prove adept with the challenging physical demands placed on them. Everyone onscreen looks like they’re having a good time, even when they’re being sliced, maimed or disemboweled.
Production companies: Automatik, Dark Web Productions, Defiant Studios, Exhibit, Kodiak Pictures
Distributor: RLJE Films
Cast: Julian McMahon, Robin Tunney, Sam Strike, Erin Moriarty, Lance Reddick, Brandon Micheal Hall, Virginia Gardener, Diego Boneta
Director-screenwriter: Chris von Hoffmann
Producers: Eric B. Fleischman, Brian Kavanaugh-Jones, Jesse Berger
Executive producers: Fernando Loureiro, Roberto Vasconcellos, Maurice Fadida, Kyle Marcotte, Caleb Nelson, Teddy Cabugos, Mike Yedwab, Cason French, Michael Bingham
Director of photography: Tobias Deml
Production designer: Megan Elizabeth Bell
Editors: Gehrig Burnett Jr., Joe Rosenbloom
Composers: Felix Erskine, Nao Sato
Costume designer: Joanna David
Casting: Lindsey Weissmueller