Reason for filming: A group of film students are sent on assignment to collect alumni interviews for their college.
What’s the horror: Aliens, zombies
Does the dog die? No animal cruelty
Gore factor: Minimal
Re-watch scale: Occasional re-watch.
There’s a cool story at the heart of There Are Monsters; I just wish it was executed differently. While this movie is labeled as a found-footage film, for at least half of its runtime none of the characters are actually doing any filming; they’re all on-screen being filmed by some other camera. Based on that, it’s baffling to me why they chose to use found-footage techniques for the entire film. It’s perfectly fine to use occasional found-footage in a movie and more traditional methods for the rest of it; plenty of films have done this to good effect. But for whatever reason, the filmmakers chose here to keep a consistent, shaky-cam style even when none of the characters are doing the filming.
To make things worse, this is actually some of the most over-the-top shaky-camera work I’ve ever seen in a found footage film, and it’s not even really a found footage film. That’s quite a feat to accomplish. There are actually entire scenes that are NOTHING but blur and movement – we cut to a scene of blurred light that is also spinning around for no reason, then just cut to another scene without any idea why we watched that madness. The camera is constantly shifting out of focus while characters are on-screen, and at times it just never focuses on any of them at all. Even scenes that are just the four characters having a conversation go by in a whir of motion; the camera constantly jump-cuts between them and goes in and out of focus to boot. It’s kind of a mess.
So why would I ever write about a movie like this, or ever bother to re-watch it? Because the story, while derivative, is told quite an interesting way, and the movie is great at building tension and providing a decent payoff in the end. There are also some great jump scares and cool effects at play; I just wish the found footage conceit had been done away with altogether.
The story is this: a group of film students set off to interview alumni that the college can use on their website. Along the way, the crew of four starts to notice people around them with some really strange behavior. They see unresponsive people standing still with their backs to them. They keep seeing twins everywhere. And every once in awhile someone gives them a creepy smile that’s just a little off – keep in mind, this movie was made in 2013, well before this year’s Smile hit theaters, so it’s not like it’s copying that particular feature.
Two of the main characters, Beth and Terry, take all of this weirdness to heart straight away, but of course we have to have that one person who just refuses to believe any of it is real until the last possible moment. That person in this movie is named Jeff, and the actor looks so much like the dude from Entourage that I had to stop and look him up to see if it was the same guy. It isn’t.
Maybe it’s my loathing for Entourage that made me hate Jeff so much, but I think it had more to do with just how long this character stayed committed to naysaying everything that happened as no big deal. I wanted to cut out his tongue if he used the word “just” one more time (It’s just the wind. She just has a cough. It’s just the flu. They’re just getting ready. You get the idea). Seriously, his refusal to take anything seriously becomes quite maddening, especially when one little glimpse at his friend Dan’s diary scribbles convince him everyone’s been right when he’s been confronted with far better evidence by his friends that he JUST refuses to believe.
It turns out that some sort of force, possibly alien, is taking over human bodies, creating exact replicas of them that take over their daily lives. And while these replicas look exactly like their human counterparts, they don’t know how to behave like humans, and their attempts at it often fail – like the freaky twins’ makeup applications above. This works well in the opening act of the film to keep us interested in what the hell might be going on without giving away too much – a receptionist at a school is wearing her shirt inside-out. A man in a waiting room writes random letters and scribbles all over his crossword puzzle. As previously mentioned, the group comes across random people standing with their backs to them, perfectly still and unresponsive. And occasionally, someone dazzles them with that unnerving, too-wide grin. So what exactly is going on?
The film does a good job building up all these strange occurrences, culminating in a pretty awesome scene where whatever’s going on starts to happen to everyone all around them. And once Jeff is finally convinced that people are losing their minds – or their souls, or whatever – the group takes off running. It turns out that enough humans have been taken over by that time that the strange force controlling them all decides there’s no longer any need to hide, and once that happens, it’s zombie time.
From this point forward, the movie becomes your typical third-act run-from-the-monsters-and-try-to-survive fearfest, but shaky camera aside it’s well-done – although it goes on just a bit too long, and does that thing where it manages to pack in about three endings where the movie easily could have stopped, then keeps going. But the chase is fun, and there are some good jump scares thrown in for added pizzaz. Unfortunately, the damn cameras just get shakier and shakier, even though no one is filming anymore, which seriously mars the enjoyment of the film overall. It’s too bad the director went this route with it, because it’s pretty solid otherwise.