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Thursday, August 13, 2020

[Review] ‘Monstrous’ is an Admirable Indie Attempt to Do Something New With Bigfoot

If you think about it, the Sasquatch and the Killer Shark share very similar trajectories as horror movie monsters. Both sub-genres began in earnest in the 1970s, with The Legend of Boggy Creek (1972) and Jaws (1975) being considered classic films that paved the way for all the rest. Both sub-genres are also home to countless movies that are mostly of a low-level quality, with only a small handful of standout treasures to be found in each of them. Films such as Deep Blue Sea, The Reef and The Shallows highlight the man-eating shark sub-genre, while Bigfoot enthusiasts at least have Abominable, Willow Creek and Exists. And now, thanks to director Bruce Wemple, we have Monstrous, a Bigfoot horror movie of another sort.

Anna Shields, who also wrote Monstrous, stars in the film as Sylvia, who sets out on a road trip in the wake of her friend mysteriously vanishing in Whitehall, New York – a town that was put on the map thanks to its many Bigfoot sightings. Along with her on the journey is Alex (Rachel Finninger), a stranger who also shares a connection to a mysterious disappearance that has been attributed to the alleged Bigfoot that calls Whitehall home. Together at Alex’s isolated home in the woods, Sylvia and Alex soon come face-to-face with the beast.

Like many Bigfoot horror movies, Monstrous is a low-budget indie affair, so you may be wondering right off the bat how successful it is at bringing the monster to the screen. And especially given the lack of budget here, I’m happy to report that the Bigfoot found in Monstrous is incredibly well presented, shot by Wemple with an almost uncanny awe for much of the film’s runtime. To properly set expectations, Bigfoot doesn’t appear all that much in the movie – more on that in a minute – but when he does show up, Wemple makes sure his brief appearances make a lasting impression. From an opening sequence that gives us a gorgeous-looking glimpse at the monster’s silhouette, his mess of body hair blowing in the wind, to a later Slenderman-esque wide shot that shows us his true scale by putting him side by side with a human being, Monstrous is home to some truly exceptional glimpses of Bigfoot, with Wemple impressively establishing form and scale while smartly hiding the full costume.

But what really sets Monstrous apart from other Bigfoot movies, for better or worse, is the fact that Bigfoot is essentially a supporting player in his own movie. Shields’ script interestingly makes Bigfoot something of an unwilling participant in a tale of romance, intrigue and murder, and it’s clear she set out to make something more than just another Bigfoot horror movie. To dig further into the specifics would be to spoil some of the movie’s plot points, but Monstrous is for the most part a character-driven indie, which will no doubt disappoint some and impress others. No, this isn’t the full-on “Bigfoot Kills” horror movie that the poster art may be suggesting, but rather a more ambitious tale that uses Bigfoot in a fresh new way.

Monstrous, to be clear, stumbles quite a bit along the way, home to amateur filmmaking pratfalls like rough scene transitions, clunky setup, overly convoluted plotting and a general lack of finesse when it comes to marrying its main storyline with the Bigfoot threat that got you to rent the movie in the first place; and when he’s finally revealed in full, well, let’s just say it was smart to hide the costume for much of the runtime. It’s not an entirely successful effort all the way through, and its final act tends to drag when the film should be hitting its highest notes, but Monstrous is altogether the sort of admirable indie effort that’s full of genuine effort, ambition and heart. That extends to the cast, with Shields and Finninger both managing to create real characters with inner depth and shared chemistry. Much of the film puts Bigfoot on the back burner to instead document their blossoming relationship and the intrigue surrounding their individual connections to the monster – everyone may not be who they’re claiming to be – and they prove to be an enjoyable duo to hang out with.

Monstrous is surely going to be polarizing in the Bigfoot community, with many no doubt bound to feel that Bigfoot is merely a gimmick being used to get you to watch a movie that otherwise doesn’t have all that much to do with Bigfoot. And while that’s perhaps a fair criticism, I personally found what Shields and Wempler have brought to the table here to be a refreshing new take on the sub-genre with something more on its mind than mere monster movie mayhem. With plenty of those Bigfoot movies already at our disposal, maybe it was time for someone to aim a little bit higher. And though their aim may be off from time to time, it’s because they aim at all that Monstrous is an enjoyable and worthwhile indie watch.

Monstrous is now available on DVD and Digital.


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