In a sea of genre releases each year, even a well cast feature with a story that has a hint of originality and is frightening can be overlooked. Monster Party, now on VOD, DVD, and Blu-Ray is a film that may fall under the radar but is a ride worth your time. Starring a pretty talented and balanced cast including Robin Tunney (The Craft), Lance Reddick (John Wick), Julian McMahon (Nip/Tuck), Virginia Gardner (Starfish), Erin Moriarty (True Detective) among others. Monster Party’s focus on a dinner party that is celebrating a milestone for a group of rich, twenty somethings that have rehabbed their lives from a dark addiction. Hosted by the rich Dawson family including Tunney, McMahon, Moriarty, their son Elliott played by Kian Lawley and their mentor Milo (Reddick), all is not what it seems to be. Dealing with issues and secrets of their own, the party is infiltrated by a trio of talented thieves who act as the dinner party help for the Dawson’s lead by Gardner as Iris, her boyfriend Dodge (Brandon Micheal Hall), and Casper (Sam Strike). This trio has a plan of stealing thousands of dollars while the gathered guests celebrate the milestone. As the home’s security is triggered, all bets are off for the trio who must survive not only the Dawson family and Milo but those who are regressing back to the blood lust they thought they were passed.
Monster Party was a welcomed surprise on many levels! The sophomore feature for writer and director Chris von Hoffmann (Drifter), Von Hoffman has made more than a dozen shorts in the last fifteen years which reflects the polish on this film. Raising his film making on just about every level with Monster Party, it does take a page out of Don’t Breathe especially with the setup of the conflict in the first act. A majority of the film takes place within the interior of one location. An elegant residence in an isolated area, the lavished home feels like a labyrinth of horror and tension once you enter it’s doors. The home makes you feel off balanced and is a key character that is built up by Von Hoffman and his creative collaboration with the DP of his first feature, Tobias Deml. Unlike the 2016 feature Drifter, where it feels broader in scope, Deml creates some real tension and claustrophobia within very intimate framing and tempting long shots leading you into some sequences where anything goes and no one is safe.
While the film is not as much of an FX showcase as I hoped, the FX makeup and blood shed are impactful, driven by kills of pleasure and frenzy. The way the kills are shot and later timed are not anything that we have not seen before but add a jolt of shock and are a joy to see executed after the post production process. The lighting design for Monster Party is a star here as well. From what we see on screen, nothing ever feels to shadowed. It is planned and definitely creates a mood in the different stages of the conflict especially in the panic room location of the home which features different tempo shifts.
Getting back to the characters in the narrative, Von Hoffman’s characters are developed during the events that unfold instead of needing a full backstory given in either flashbacks or through narration. Their backstory is the conflict, a temptation, and a trigger for the events to happen. All the characters in a twisted way, find themselves battling some sort of addiction or past sins they choose to involve themselves in. Von Hoffman makes every character (no matter how noble or insidious) stand in moralities grey area. One of the true strengths of this film is found in the talent who was cast. This is a credit to not only quality writing but also smart casting who have had previous roles similar to these characters. There is a comfort and connection to actors like Reddick as a mentor, McMahon as a villain, Tunney as a mother figure, Gardner as the conflicted youth, and so on. The cast is stellar and brings a heartbeat some life to what could have been cookie cutter monsters.
Monster Party has a lot going for it. It is a lot of fun, and in the deep and dark humanity of these characters, addresses some real topics. What makes this film so frightening is the reality of this narrative overall. Yes, it is crazy at times, unexpected, and a bit over dramatic. However, the idea of these extreme therapies, class status, and the overall profile of the wealthy sends a chill down my spine. Plus, anything that has Julian McMahon as a villain or broken character, is always a joy to watch the darkness he brings to each role whether it is Nip/Tuck, Charmed, Fantastic Four or this film. Expected the unexpected at the Monster Party.