Taiwanese director Giddens Ko absolutely crushes his first horror film. In an era when ‘high school’ films trend toward uplifting, heartwarming stories about overcoming odds, Ko wasn’t afraid to go dark. Despite the Scooby Doo-ish title, Mon Mon Mon Monsters dives head-first into a pitch black world of bullies, apathetic adults, and a total lack of parental supervision. Channeling pain, anger, and isolation, there’s hardly a redeemable quality to be found in Ko’s world, and that is simultaneously the film’s greatest strength and biggest weakness.
The film introduces the protagonist, Lin (Yu-Kai Teng), standing in front of his class while his classmates pelt him with balled up paper and other objects. The teacher only protests when they come too close to hitting her. The subject of frequent, and extreme, bullying and assault, Lin enlists the help of adults only to be told that he should consider the bullies’ feelings. Ko’s characters would feel very much at home in a Stephen King film.
In a downward spiral of depression, angst, and bitterness, Lin becomes a bully himself and joins the gang as they are forced to do community service together. During these sequences the film really wallows in the evil, hateful nature of the world Ko created. The gang mercilessly, relentlessly, and brutally tortures, abuses, and steals from elderly patients without consequence. It’s also at this point in the film where Ko demonstrates his deft command of world building. Filthy, cluttered hallways, disgusting apartments, and dingy, abandoned basements adorn the screen, showing a keen eye for detail. The film looks less like a sterile movie set, and more like a documentary of the world’s worst slums and ghettos. Mon Mon Mon Monsters is a master class in production design.
At nearly 2 hours, it’s long by horror film standards, but uses its runtime to develop the cast of supporting characters and establish the world, long before introducing the pivotal conflict: the titular monster. And with that comes a fantastic payoff as well as spectacular creature design. The bullies end up capturing one of the monsters, engaging in a plethora of gory scenes of monster torture that demonstrate the lack of their own humanity while simultaneously communicating the ‘rules’ of this monster world to the audience.
But the creature has a protective older sister who sets out to find her captured sibling and exact her revenge, putting the gang in danger in a spectacularly unpredictable, gory climax. Make no mistake. Mon Mon Mon Monsters is a movie that hates the world and wants to watch it burn. It delights in scene after uncomfortable scene of torture and abuse with a comedic edge, and may just go too far for some viewers. There is no redemption, and there’s no uplifting, overarching moral lesson. Granted, this might leave some audiences wondering, “Why?” I have no answers. I just know that I was drawn in to this world and found the ultimate conclusion appropriately satisfying given Lin’s arc throughout the film.
Mon Mon Mon Monsters is a Shudder exclusive, available right now on Shudder and on Blu Ray and DVD on February 4, 2020.