A quartet of maladjusted and sociopathic high school assholes frame a fellow student with stealing class dues. Their teacher assigns community service for the framed student… and makes the asshole quartet join him. Their assignment: assist elderly folks who are living in a strange underground apartment complex that’s pretty much absolute squalor.
But the elderly don’t live here alone. Two sister monsters — a weird hybrid of vampire, zombie, and cannibal — live here as well, feasting on the elderly and sleeping in cardboard boxes in an abandoned elevator shaft.
While the students are attempting to steal a safe from one of the elderly tenants, they stumble upon the two monsters, scaring one off and chasing another into the street to be hit by a car. This monster becomes a prisoner of the students, and that imprisonment becomes the center of the film.
The framed student struggles with the moral rightness of what they’re doing. And the escaped monster moves through grief in a search for her captured sister (a narrative thread that precipitates one of the film’s best sequences, on a city bus). As her grief-fueled rampage roars through the city, the framed student tries to help the captured monster.
When things come to a head, the framed student has to decide which of the monsters he wants to align with, and what kind of justice will be served in the end.
What mon mon mon MONSTERS does so beautifully is subvert all of our expectations about monster movies. In this world, the monsters are are our sympathetic focus, and the students are the agents of the film’s real violence, cruelty, and horror. It’s a unique morality tale wrapped up in monster tropes, and it’s highly engaging and unusually smart.
The film makes us question what makes a monster. Are the monsters in our world the vampires and zombies? Or are the monsters the humans that make compromised moral choices? Our female monsters kill — and in spectacularly gory fashion — but they also exhibit kindness (one offering a heart to the other to eat) and depths of sadness. And our students are capable of theft, torture and a gory murder of their own.
Their menace and maliciousness provides more horror than our vampire zombies. And that subversion of the genre is what makes the film so interesting. When all the film’s monsters crash together in the last stretch, easy moral answers evaporate, and and the film embraces human (and monster) ambiguity in all its messy glory. And the film’s final scene is a gut punch, beautifully distilling everything that came before in one perfect image.
The answers aren’t easy here. But neither are living and dying.