Movie Review: MONSTERS CLUB

From the New York Asian Film Festival: A Japanese take on the Unabomber... with ghosts.

Movie Review: MONSTERS CLUB

I don't care how well adjusted you are, there was at least one point in your life when you seriously wished you could sever all your ties to society, move to a log cabin and send letter bombs. Luckily blasting “Killing In The Name Of” tends to assuage the instinct (note to Homeland Security, please read that part before you start tapping my phone) but for some, like the lead in Toshaki Toyada's Monsters Club, a nu-metal mosh isn't going to cut it.

The film begins with a pointillist collection of images, detailing the isolated living of our domestic terrorist. Beneath his harvesting of winter cabbage, deer hunting and bucket showers in the snow we are assaulted by his manifesto in voice over. It makes Travis Bickle's notebook sound like “Goodnight Moon.” This is one angry dude who makes reasonable points about the ills of modern culture, but has decided the only morally just thing to do is not only divest oneself but to attack.

One thing you'll notice as you watch him mix explosive powders and add spice rub to his grilled game is that he looks. . .kinda well dressed for a madman. He's got a slick-lookin' corduroy jacket with wool lining and no maniacal beard. We'll soon discover that he is, indeed, a member of a large, wealthy family that has undergone a recent series of tragedies.

We'll discover this in an unexpected manner, however, when he is visited by his concerned sister, by visions of his dead brothers and through scary-as-all-hell apparitions of God-knows-what in the form of creepy-ass spirits covered in what looks like wax and cake frosting.

These sequences are made doubly eerie with the inclusion of high frequency feedback pops on the soundtrack – I'll admit, for a minute I thought the DVD I was watching was encoded wrong. The meatiest scenes come in confrontations with his brothers. One died in an accident after the sudden death of their parents and he wants our mountain dweller to come back to the world. The other committed suicide and basically scoffs that if somebody really wants to snub society, any other action is a sign of weakness.

These scenes play a bit like black box theater, but there's a cramped quality to the small mountain cabin to keep the tension amped up. The film's third act takes the frighting frosting-face concept and puts it out into the real world. I can't say that I can completely articulate what this fusion of concepts was ultimately meant to represent, but Toyada sells it on mood. I “got it” while watching it, if that makes any sense.

Monsters Club is clearly inspired by the story of the Unabomber (note to Hollywood: where the hell's the movie on David Kaczynski – there's a story rife with drama!) but parts company with it in unexpected ways. Our “hero's” demand is not to have his sopabox-y manifesto published (as was Ted Kaczynski's) but rather to have his poetry published. Through a hallucinatory flashback we see the full family on a vacation and it is neither utopian bliss or a revelatory instance of parental cruelty.

Monsters Club, despite its very basic, binary themes, seems to be all about the peculiarity of individuals. Perhaps that was the point. It is easy to write the Unabomber off – or any fundamentalists, for that matter - as either loonies or the only shining path of righteous thinking. Monsters Club reminds us that, unfortunately, life isn't that simple.

It's a heavy film but, in keeping with these paradoxes, it feels a little slight. It's damn short (72 minutes) and I wouldn't argue with anyone who sees it and thinks, “well, that's it?” But I was swept up. The inclusion of the crazy-ass visions might seem like a shoved-in story element, but the genuine, inexplicable dread it evoked did a lot to help me get in the character's defective mindset.

Monsters Club is having its US premiere at the New York Asian Film Festival in July.

Jordan Hoffman's photo About the Author: Jordan Hoffman is a writer, critic and lapsed filmmaker living in New York City. His work can also be seen on Film.com, ScreenCrush and StarTrek.com.
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