'Making Monsters' Review: Not All Scares Come Naturally

A professional prankster sees his own life turned upside down. Or does he? He does. Unless...

Making Monsters

Toronto After Dark Film Festival runs October 17th through the 25th.

You’d be forgiven for hearing about a new horror film built on a “scary” YouTube prank show and then running the other direction, but sometimes a movie can surprise you. Making Monsters has a few unexpected turns up its sleeve, but the most important and relevant among them is its wise decision to not go the expected found footage route.

A naked man runs screaming through the snow, as you do, but the blood splattering his back is only the first sign that something is amiss. A masked man is following with a rifle, and soon enough, the screaming stops. But forget that for now as the real focus here is Chris (Tim Loden) and Allison (Alana Elmer), a YouTube-famous couple who’ve built their reputation on a prank show that’s found popularity through an endless series of videos showing Allison scared out of her shorts. When they agree to spend the weekend at an old friend’s even older (but renovated) church, but with the friend running late, they’re entertained by his fiancee David (a terrific Jonathan Craig). There’s fun to be had, but soon they discover things far scarier than a YouTube prank show.

The well-crafted but unnecessary ‘in medias res’ opening undercuts some of what comes later, but that misstep aside, writer/director Justin Harding does good work introducing his characters and setting up the nightmare they’ve wandered into. Human menace combines with supernatural teases, and with it all set against the premise of a prank show the film succeeds at leaving viewers uncertain what to believe up through its end reveals.

That said, the prank show premise also works against the film too in that its existence and success seem highly unlikely. The entire show, every episode, sees Chris scaring Allison by wearing masks and jumping up to jolt her — that’s it, that’s the entirety of the gimmick, and I’d argue that’s not even a prank. Sure, Bam Margera shocked, scared, and harassed his parents periodically on his “reality” show Viva La Bam, but it was a small part of the whole. Here we’re expected to believe that 10 million subscribers would keep tuning in to see the same ridiculously gullible woman scream again and again, and it’s hard to swallow. Thankfully, the movie moves on from that fairly quickly to deliver a wider variety of scares and unsettling observations.

Harding offers something of a throwaway exchange early on regarding Allison’s familial connection to the supernatural, but while it feels like fluff it plays smartly into the shenanigans that follow. Something is clearly amiss in the house with possibilities ranging from the return of the masked man to it all being just another prank (albeit a far more elaborate one), but once Allison starts seeing a grisly phantom in the house all bets are off. Is it real? And if so, what is its role in all of this? This element could have probably stood to be made a bit clearer which, in turn, would have made its impact that much stronger, but it remains effective.

There are some frustrations to be had as Chris’ behavior makes him more of a dick than would be ideal — it’s hard to be concerned when someone you dislike is in danger — and some later choices are equally irritating. Leave the goddamn house already! I get it, the renovated church is a fantastic location that’s both creepy and beautiful, but at a certain point a rational person would just cut and run.

Still, these are quibbles about a film that gets more right than wrong. Making Monsters succeeds at delivering some creepy visuals, thrilling sequences, and more than a few story turns to keep viewers interested and alert. There’s also a pretty nifty beat involving a pitchfork, and that’s not something you see everyday on YouTube. Unlike stupid “prank” shows…

Toronto After Dark Film Festival runs October 17th through the 25th.

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