'The Monster Project': Film Review

THE MONSTER PROJECT - Still 1 -Publicity - H 2017
Courtesy of Epic Pictures
Unimaginative and sensorily monotonous.

A gag TV project leads to actual supernatural encounters in Victor Mathieu's found-footage fright flick.

A low-rent House of Horrors for whatever small contingent of genre fans isn't yet sick to death of found-footage thrillers, Victor Mathieu's The Monster Project sets YouTubers against boogeymen and wonders who will win. More of a challenge to the eyes and ears than most pics of its ilk, it invests slightly more in its characters than usual, but not enough to make us care if they live or die. Commercial prospects are slim, though some buffs may click in the home-entertainment arena.

Having enjoyed some success with goofy YouTube videos in which they dress as monsters and stage mock sightings, buddies Devon and Jamal (Justin Bruening and Jamal Quezaire) believe they can make real money by upping the ante: They set out to interview actual monsters, or at least humans who believe that's what they are, for a vid series. Through Craigslist, that vast resource for victims-to-be, they set up interviews with a self-proclaimed vampire, a woman possessed by a demon and a Native American "skinwalker" (that is, a werewolf).

Devon risks the ire of his ex-girlfriend Murielle (Murielle Zuker) by asking her to direct the show and hiring her current love interest Bryan (Toby Hemingway) as a PA. Why he'd offer a PA more than his co-creator Jamal is being paid remains unexplained — as does his willingness to hire Bryan despite believing that the young man hasn't given up the drugs he claims to be abstaining from. (This is true, and it's the film's sole real subplot.)

Tip for crewmembers of low-budget horror movies: When your producer tells you to leave your cellphones in the van before entering a scary, boarded-up house, ignore him. Maybe his worries about signal interference are well founded, but they're likely outweighed by your familiarity with the way horror movies work.

The four filmmakers have arranged to speak to their trio of "monsters" at this big, decrepit house on the night of a lunar eclipse. Mathieu doesn't waste any time before establishing that the interviewees are in fact what they claim to be, and locking the heroes in the house with them. There's very little mood-setting before the monsters turn on the kids, roaring and biting and roaring and chasing and roaring and hiding. The sound design and effects are hard to take here, as is the fact that the film has shifted entirely to green night-vision mode. As DP Phillip Sebal mimics the frantic, amateurish camerawork of his multiple POV-shooting protagonists, we sometimes can't tell what's going on — and, given the monotony of Mathieu's action pacing, we frequently don't care.

Distributor: Epic Pictures
Cast: Justin Bruening, Toby Hemingway, Murielle Zuker, Jamal Quezaire, Yvonne Zima, Steven Flores, Shiori Ideta, James Storm, Susan Stangi
Director: Victor Mathieu
Screenwriters: Victor Mathieu, Shariya Lynn, Corbin Billings
Producers: Victor Mathieu, Phillip Sebal, Corbin Billings, Mike Burkenbine
Executive producers: Anthony Billings, Jim Beinke, Jonathan Bross, Jon Braver, JS Sebal, Mitchell Kanner, Lauren Doucette, Uri Levanon
Director of photography: Phillip Sebal
Production designer: Bradd Wesley Fillmann
Costume designer: Esther Han
Editor: Phillip Sebal
Composers: Pinar Toprak, Emir Isilay
Casting directors: Lauren Bass, Jordan Bass

98 minutes