By Scott Dorward
mon mon mon MONSTERS (Taiwan, 2017)
mon mon mon MONSTERS was another random selection, plucked from my streaming subscriptions to flesh out this month’s list. I knew nothing about it beyond it being a Taiwanese film with an awful title. While I get what they were going for with that name, the tweeness almost put me off. I’m glad it didn’t. This has proved the biggest surprise of the month so far.
Lin Shuwei is the kind of nerdy, overachieving high school pupil that other students love to torment. And torment him they do. No matter how brutal the bullying becomes, his teacher turns a blind eye. When a group of troublemakers frames Lin for stealing class funds, Lin proves innocence. His teacher punishes him anyway, alongside the actual perpetrators.
This punishment takes the form of community service at a shelter for the elderly. Predictably, the boys spend their time abusing the residents instead of helping. Late one night, the boys encounter a pair of humanoid creatures hunting the residents. Following an altercation, the boys knock out the younger of these two and take it back to their hideout.
Over the course of days, the boys torture the creature, pulling teeth and extracting blood. They learn that, like a vampire, it is vulnerable to sunlight and feeds on human blood. As they find ways to use their captive’s powers, the older creature comes looking for her kin, leaving a trail of bodies in her wake.
There are so many scenes in mon mon mon MONSTERS that start off comedic but turn into something much nastier. This is a film of dizzying tonal shifts, all deployed expertly. Every time we start succumbing to the film’s superficial good humour, it slaps us hard, reminding us what we are really watching. It is like being in the company of a glibly charming psychopath whose mask keeps slipping.
This is reinforced by the presence of a genuine psychopath. Tuan Renhao, the leader of the gang, is terrifying. His boyish good looks and affable manner are weapons, ready to be dropped in favour of violence at any moment. We can’t help but give into his charisma, despite knowing what a monster he is. This is a skin-crawling study in manipulation.
The actual monsters, as creepy as they appear, are far more sympathetic. These grey-skinned, feral vampires have mouths full of shark’s teeth and scuttle across walls like spiders. They are undeniably monstrous, hunting vulnerable humans for food. At the same time, they are a family unit who care for each other and display real emotional vulnerability. The older creature’s grief and anger are both frightening and heart-rending. This is the perfect counterpoint to the boys’ callousness and cruelty.
Like vampires, the gang’s monstrous nature is contagious. Their influence transforms Lin as much as any vampiric bite. By the end of the film, it feels like he is capable of anything.
With its glossy visuals and lively pace, mon mon mon MONSTERS feels lighter than it is. It wears the mask of a teen comedy, hiding something horrible underneath. The sheer style and energy reminded me of Edgar Wright’s work. But where most horror comedies use their lighter moments to soften or counterpoint the darker ones, here they just lull us into briefly forgetting what kind of film we are watching.
I was genuinely surprised at how brutal mon mon mon MONSTERS is. The older monster’s hunt for her companion is merciless. She kills violently and efficiently, without hesitation. In a couple of especially gruesome scenes, she despatches dozens of people in minutes, tearing through them like a machine. And the ending is so absolutely pitch dark that it left me shocked.
There is not a single scene in mon mon mon MONSTERS that fails to engage. It is efficiently and mercilessly scripted and executed. This is the kind of seemingly effortless filmmaking that makes you wonder why all horror films can’t be as good. Highly recommended.
The October Horror Movie Challenge
Please do join in and share your own thoughts with us about this or any other films as the month goes on. You can usually find us on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Discord, or lurking in the dark corners of your home.
If you would like to play along at home, my provisional selections are:
- Possessor (2020)
- The Boogey Man (1980)
- Jakob’s Wife (2021)
- The Queen of Black Magic (2019)
- Cold Hell (2017)
- Seance (2021)
- The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976)
- Dachra (2018)
- Isle of the Dead (1945)
- After Midnight (2019)
- The Baby (1973)
- Hagazussa (2017)
- Frightmare (1974)
- The Eyes of My Mother (2016)
- Dave Made a Maze (2017)
- Raw (2016)
- The Old Ways (2020)
- Terror Train (1980)
- mon mon mon MONSTERS (2017)
- Sator (2019)
- Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972)
- The Lighthouse (2019)
- Anything For Jackson (2020)
- Warning: Do Not Play (Amjeon) (2019)
- Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)
- The Field Guide to Evil (2019)
- A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)
- The Wizard of Gore (1970)
- Fingers (2019)
- Lake Bodom (2016)
- Island of Lost Souls (1932)
A Final Note
If you have been enticed here by these posts, please do look around at some of our other film reviews. We also have a podcast, called The Good Friends of Jackson Elias, which occasionally covers horror films. If this appeals, you might want to check out some of the following episodes.
- The Changeling
- The Endless
- Our favourite Cthulhu Mythos media
- The Fly
- A Dark Song
- The Thing
- The Ritual
- The Wicker Man
- The Stone Tape
- Event Horizon
- The Witch
- INLAND EMPIRE
- Nightbreed and Lord of Illusions
- Maléfique and The Ninth Gate
- Re-Animator and From Beyond
- Repulsion and The Babdook
- Man Bites Dog, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon and S&man
- A selection of weird films
- David Cronenberg
- The films that scared us most
If you dig through the archives, you will also find episodes about a wide variety of horror stories and games. Happy nightmares!