BY: DAKOTA DAHL
Starring Angel Giuffria, Matthew Clarke, Michaela Celeste and Georgia Crisfield-Smith
Written by Karen Elgar and Stuart Stanton
Directed by Stuart Stanton
Final Focus Australia/ Uncork’d Entertainment
Whenever an Australian horror film is set in the woods, it will inevitably and unfairly get compared to Long Weekend. NO SUCH THING AS MONSTERS is not Long Weekend. Hell, it isn’t even The Texas Chain Saw Massacre or The Hills Have Eyes, despite desperately trying to be. NO SUCH THING AS MONSTERS is a pale imitation of other, more charming films about insane backwoods families.
We follow Mary (Angel Giuffria, The Accountant, Synthesis) who is being dragged on a caravan trip by her dickhead boyfriend David (Matthew Clarke, Who Killed Jessica Lane?, Bush Boys.) Mary doesn’t want to go due to crippling claustrophobia resulting from a tragic accident which probably resulted in the loss of an arm (Angel Giuffria is an amputee in real life, wearing a prosthesis both off and on the screen.) Instead of saying “that’s a reasonable thing to have after what you’ve been through” David gaslights her into going on a camping excursion under the pretense that it will be good for her. To the surprise of nobody, it isn’t good for anyone.
While out in the caravan, which in no way is different from a trailer no matter what your shitty boyfriend tells you, they come across a family also out for a fun romp in the woods. The family is nondescriptly weird, with hints of incest and vague past wrongdoings. Heck, they even have a family member who perpetually wears a mask! No, it’s not made of leather, or even interesting in any way, but it is certainly a mask!
The family captures the couple, and chain Mary up while they torture and rape David. I say “torture” because that’s what the film wants us to feel is happening. Obviously, sexual assault is torture enough, but they make a point of showing how much they are hurting David, which is conveyed through minor bruising and a single scene where they pour a drop of boiling water on him. It’s fairly underwhelming, and somewhat obfuscates the true horror of being kept as a breeding slave. If the budgetary restraints didn’t allow for the portrayal of more viscerally shocking abuse, it would have behooved the filmmakers to focus on the ACTUAL horrific reality of sexual abuse that’s present.
There is a huge lull in action which takes up what feels like 90% of the film. Mary is chained up, people visit her, she plays chess, none of it is very interesting. With a more competent script, these sections would function as mind games and windows into the madness of the family. What we get instead is a painfully large chunk of the screen time filled with nothing memorable.
As if everything mentioned wasn’t bad enough, the sound is near crippling. The rock is bad, the soundtrack cheesy, and the balancing levels of the music to dialogue are way off, making it difficult to understand what characters are saying at times. There are long montages of camping or road-tripping where we are meant to get a glimpse of the love between Mary and David, but the music choice is so jarring or benign that you can’t wait for something horrible to happen.
The earlier mentioned Texas Chain Saw and Hills franchises were a success because they pushed the envelope. They showed gore, depravity, and evil, all of which were carried out by a rogues gallery of delightful lunatics. NO SUCH THING AS MONSTERS forgets to do any of that, and instead just assumes that putting city folk in horrible scenarios at the hands of bad people is enough to carry a film. It forgets to dip into the well of the truly depraved, to do something shocking. The writers always seem afraid to go to a place that would frighten themselves.
If you think I’m probably being unfair, feel free to check out NO SUCH THING AS MONSTERS for yourself, as it is now available on VOD and DVD.