Skunk Ape, Yetis, Sasquatches, Dewey Lake and Mongollon Monsters — the Bigfoot scene is pretty crowded. Some of these stories are laughed off even by amateur cryptozoologists as nothing more than mass hysteria or cries for attention, and even more are easily waved away with even the briefest of critical thought or study. Some of them, though, have staying power. Momo, the eponymous Missouri Monster in Small Town Monsters’ newest feature-length documentary, which haunted the small town of Louisiana, Missouri, in the early 1970s, has staying power.
Directed by Seth Breedlove as part Small Town Monsters’ Kickstarter funded cryptozoology run, and featuring dramatic narration and hosting by fan-favorite author and television personality, Lyle Blackburn, Momo is a fun but deeply flawed endeavor with bits that really work and others that … just don’t.
What works? Both the structure of the film, as well as its narrow focus. In fact, the story of Momo and the strange death stench he inflicted on Louisiana’s denizens really shines in the manner that Breedlove and Blackburn have concocted for it — through a back and forth between sincere documentary and absolute shlock B-horror movie.
That’s right, a significant portion of Momo’s runtime is dedicated to a faux ‘70s horror movie very much in keeping with the usual Mystery Science Theater 3000 fare and, much to my surprise, it works! Momo is a dead dog-carrying force to behold. Matted fur, disorienting stench, haunting red eyes and more are brought to life in a tongue-in-cheek way that works to recount the supposedly real run-ins Louisiana citizens had with the monster, in an equally informative and entertaining way that I haven’t seen in a movie of this style before.
This commitment to a bit is of course assisted by the more immediate documentary segments. Earnest and focused on the stories of the people whose families experienced “something” in the Missouri woods, the documentary attached to Momo’s very own B-movie is surprisingly skeptical and emotive.
Most of the people living in Louisiana don’t really believe in Momo anymore (if they ever did) but they do believe in the power stories like Momo’s have to change, develop, and give character to their communities. That in and of itself — the local legend recounted by the people who experienced it, and by the people who had to keep living with it when the flash in the pan of Momo merchandise and burger sales was over — is worth the price of admission here.
Unfortunately, not all of Missouri Monster is dedicated to that angle, and when the movie goes off the rails, it really goes off. This is due to a number of tangentially related angles, effects, and efforts that detract from the central focus in strange, tonally confused ways. It could be Blackburn’s lack of stage presence or effective voice over that doesn’t work for you, it could be the strange disconnection between the ‘70s movie and real-life events, even though it was developed explicitly to reproduce them (they admit to this even, chalking it up to “artistic license”), or, most damningly in this reviewer’s view, it could be that the film’s very depiction of Momo seems at odds with itself.
Now, I respect Missouri Monster’s dedication to not giving definitive answers — I am a monster-loving skeptic, like many. But painting Momo as an aggressive and threatening alien force in its dramatizations, and then shifting to Blackburn plainly stating that no encounters with Momo resulted in scared, threatened, or harmed persons is strange, and highlights a lack of a cohesive mission or angle which undermines much of the film’s work elsewhere. The fact this happens more than once is simply confounding. With no commitment to the viewer to be entirely earnest, or even realistic, Momo may have been better off leaving these incongruities unsaid.
Ultimately, then, Momo: The Missouri Monster in both faux horror and sincere documentary form is singularly fun, sometimes scary, and too often absolutely confusing. The structure, production, sound design, and general ethos of the film are effective and engaging, especially among the usual monster (mock)umentary fare, but the lack of cohesive elements, misplaced tone, and damning willingness to be entirely inconsistent in reproduction undermine the effort more than enthusiastic cryptozoologists might like.
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