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Saturday, May 16, 2020

Review: Monstrum

Director: Jong-ho Huh
Screenplay: Jeong-uk Byeon, Heo-dam, and Jong-ho Huh
Year: 2020

South Korea has been for quite some time a constant source of excellent thriller and horror movies, as is the case of the recent winner of three Oscars “Parasite”, the previous work of director Bong Joon Ho “The Host”, which is one of the best creature features, one of the best, if not the best zombie movies “Train To Busan” or the recent “Rampant”. For this reason, it shouldn’t be a surprise that I get excited every time a new horror movie emerges from that country, like how Shudder added “Monstrum” to its catalog with little previous announcement. 

Yoon Gyeom is a soldier that retired from his position and found a much quieter lifestyle in the rural area, far from civilization. It goes this way until one day a man arrives at his house looking for him and informs him of the current situation that the King of Joseon and his people live before the presence of a monster that’s wreaking havoc, and ask for his help in this matter. What seems to be a story created to spread fear among the citizens ends up being something very real which they must face to protect the people.

“Monstrum” takes place in a time and space span similar to that of “Rampant”, where both have as a center the Kingdom of Joseon and although both have topics that are not that similar, they complement each other well for a double feature if you can tolerate their long runtimes. While “Rampant” has as the main feature of its plot a zombie outbreak, “Monstrum” combines the topics of a plague (very timely during these times) with a creature feature story.

The visual aspect is what stands out the most in “Monstrum” even when this movie from Jong-ho Huh (“Countdown”) nails down every aspect. The cinematography is very well done, using bright colors to emphasize relaxing moments and warm colors to emphasize on tense and dangerous moments, which are the ones that dominate throughout the movie. The gore, alongside the creature design, is its most impressive feature, where the practical effects of the mutilated bodies and with the aftereffects of the plague are so realistic that some scenes are hard to watch even for horror veterans.

Something that seemed interesting to me is how the creature is used and the quality of the digital effects. In many creature features, the look of the monster is reserved until the final scenes where it is revealed with the intention of causing a big impression on the viewer. “Monstrum”, however, takes a different route and presents the monster in its full flair at about midway of its extensive 105 runtime and turns it into an important and visible part for the rest of the movie. The monster design is excellent, but the quality in which its shown is not consistent and in some scenes, it looks like it was created with visual effects from a decade ago. 

It is always hard to evaluate the acting in a movie from a country with a culture that is completely different from yours, but from what I can get, the acting from the cast starring Myung-Min Kim (“Six Flying Dragons”), In-kwon Kim (“Haeundae; Tidal Wave”), Hyeri Lee (“My Punch-Drunk Boxer”), and Woo-sik Choi (“Parasite”; “Train To Busan”) is excellent and complement the personalities from the characters in the script of Jeong-uk Byeon, Heo-dam, and Jong-ho Huh. The only thing that really affects this movie is its long runtime, which could have been trimmed down to somewhere closer to 90 minutes without affected the plot too much, but this seems to be a tendency from Korean movies.

“Monstrum” is an excellent creature feature the reaffirms the position of South Korea as an important developer of horror movies. It takes a different path from what is usually seen in creature features and it does not leave its beast in the shadows and showcases it during more than half of the movie without it losing its intimidating effect. Its only problem is its long runtime, but it is entertaining enough to overcome that issue.

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