Review by Craig Draheim
Director: Heo Jong-ho
Writers: Heo Jong-ho, Heo Dam
Starring: Kim Myung-min, Kim In-kwon, Lee Hye-ri, Choi Woo-shik, Park Hee-soon
Korean cinema? Creature feature? Many plot similarities to 2001’s Brotherhood of the Wolf? Yes please! That was my initial response when watching the setup. 1500s Korea is in turmoil as it’s said to be plagued by a ravenous beast called Monstrum, which also spreads a deadly virus to the few that survive its attack. Believing it to be mass hysteria and a ploy by his Prime Minister to turn the people against him, King Jungjong hires his former general, Yun-kyum (Kim Myung-min), to find the truth. Yun-kyum was exiled years prior for speaking up against the king’s cabinet members because of a mass murder they committed on peasants believed to contain a plague. Joined by his brother-in-arms Sung-han (Kim In-kwon), his adopted daughter, Myung (Lee Hye-ri), and a young soldier named Hur (Choi Woo-shik), Yun-kyum fights to stop the beast and stop the corruption within the kingdom. From the synopsis you could guess this is meant to be more aligned with a high-concept blockbuster. This obviously shouldn’t matter as a good movie is a good movie but it’s beneficial to know what you’re getting into. Monstrum contains heavy action sequences, lots of spectacle, large production design, (as mentioned prior) high-concept plot, a lot of character tropes, and most importantly for this review, a mix of tone. Most blockbusters follow a formula that is meant to make the picture more accessible to broader audiences. This can be seen where, despite having dark subject matter and being a serious story, scattered throughout are comedic (dare I say “silly”) moments to lighten it. A key example is we witness a group of (forced) volunteers mercilessly slaughtered by the Prime Minister’s guard for his political gain, then Monstrum kills most of these guard members, and all of this is followed by a monster’ fart scene. While I don’t mind this method of approach to going from genocide-like behavior to fart jokes, it proves too much of a contrast that neither scene hits the way they could respectively. That being said, once you navigate through the tonal issues it’s rather enjoyable.
I credit the cast for selling their respective roles, and though the CGI isn’t the greatest, I really liked the uniqueness of the creature’s design. There are also some inventive moments where it’s shot with a more handheld guerilla filmmaking technique, that it gives the movie the little umph needed to incorporate some of the creators’ artistic style from your studio-influenced, paint-by-numbers blockbusters. Ultimately as a reviewer, Monstrum is in that place of limbo where it’s neither bad nor good enough to cause extensive criticism. It’s a fun, standard popcorn flick that is meant to be viewed on the largest screen you can get your hands on.