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Monday, September 28, 2020

[Review] Hulu’s “Monsterland” is a Bleak Anthology with Mostly Human Monsters

If there’s one thing horror hits home time and time again, it’s that the worst type of monsters to exist are of the human variety. That’s certainly the case in Monsterland, an eight-episode anthology series based on Nathan Ballingrud’s novel North America Lake Monsters: Stories. Each episode features a self-contained story set in a different American city, using creatures and the supernatural as a catalyst to explore humanity’s darker nature. The horrors here are bleaker, offering a depressing peek into America’s oft cynical underbelly.

Created and executive produced by Mary Laws (The Neon Demon, “Preacher”), Monsterland is foremost a character-driven anthology. Broken people are driven to desperate acts, and encounters with creatures only intersect to further their journey. Kicking off with “Port Fourchon, LA,” a single mom (Kaitlyn Dever) struggles to keep afloat and raise a seriously disturbed child. The potential to escape her unpleasant life presents itself in the form of a man (Jonathan Tucker) that keeps skin suits in his car trunk. The focus isn’t on the supernatural, but the mother’s inability to catch a break. The episode captures every bit of the frustration of raising an unruly child alone while trapped in a small town and barely scraping by. In other words, it’s not a joyful viewing experience.

That’s the core of this new series. The suffocating situations that drive their characters to complete desperation. Another episode sees an isolated teen struggling to care for his disabled, ailing mother while their bank account nears empty. The pressures of trying to run the household are exacerbated by a strange shadow figure lurking in his home. Elsewhere, a selfish man enduring a publicity nightmare over an oil spill sees his guilt manifest in demonic ways. As if it’s not already abundantly clear, the fantastical elements in this series are tools that fuel the personal journeys for each episode’s protagonist. Mermaids, witches, the undead, and more are tools of each episode’s themes. Sometimes they’re a coping mechanism. Often, they’re a mirror to force a confrontation with humankind’s worst impulses. This world is filled with monsters, but they’re not what instills fear here.

Because Monsterland is emotionally driven and eschews conventional scares, its brand of horror is more the quiet, insidious type that unfurls slowly. Many episodes end on a more ambiguous note, without tidy conclusions. That methodical approach to storytelling and atmosphere, along with the bleaker tone, makes this anthology a tough watch. The soul-sucking storylines are gloomy and miserable, featuring many parables and moral comeuppances devoid of joy. Meaning Monsterland won’t be a binge-type show you’ll want to consume in one sitting.

Laws, who also wrote multiple episodes, assembled a Murderers’ Row of talent on and off-screen. Executive producer Babak Anvari (WoundsUnder the Shadow) directed the final episode. Look for Craig William Macneil (2015’s The BoyChannel Zero), Anne Sewitsky (Black MirrorCastle Rock), Kevin Phillips (Super Dark Times), and Nicolas Pesce (PiercingThe Eyes of My Mother) to helm episodes, too. The cast includes Kelly Marie Tran (The Last Jedi), Nicole Beharie (Sleepy Hollow), Taylor Schilling (The Prodigy), and Mike Colter (Evil). It’s a well-produced, gorgeous show, and the cast brings the heft.

Horror anthologies allow multiple, smaller stories to appeal to varying tastes, but the downside is that not all will resonate. That’s certainly the case here; some episodes are much stronger than others. While each is self-contained, look for Easter eggs and a recurring character to pop up time and again as connective tissue. The other constant is the lack of uplifting or lighter episodes. Laws cuts straight to the heart of the human condition at its ugliest and most hopeless. It’s not the monsters that provide the horror here, but humanity.

Hulu‘s anthology series “Monsterland” is premiering on October 2nd.



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/reviews/3633378/tv-review-hulus-monsterland-bleak-anthology-mostly-human-monsters/

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