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‘Monstrum’ Review: South Korean creature feature dabbles in political intrigue

Monster movies do not tend to play out like this.

Politics and fear mongering are natural bedfellows. Whether as a tactic by those in charge or employed as a weapon against them, panic is a very powerful tool. South Korea’s Monstrum (streaming on Shudder beginning May 14) takes a look at the extremes to which fear can be used. Taking place during the Joseon Dynasty in Korea, the movie is about a pivotal incident during the reign of King Jungjong. According to locals, a man eating monster roams the countryside. Jungjong must take action, but are the stories true or the fabrication of a scheming Prime Minister Sim Woon?

Politics are not a new addiction to monster movies. There is usually some sort of struggle between two officials. Do they take out the monster with force and endanger the lives of millions or use a more tactful approach? The difference here is Monstrum has true political intrigue. It is not about how to handle the creature, but whether it really even exists. One of the early driving forces behind the plot is the creature may be a political lie in order to undermine Jungjong.

It is a neat premise. In the movies, monsters are constantly used as ploys to gain power. Monstrum is not even the first creature feature to use its titular character as a tool to incite panic in order to gain control. Director Huh Jong-ho goes in a different direction. His film is more about political machinations than just a power grab. (Though that is a huge part of Sim Woon’s motivation, of course.)

The fear in Monstrum is not just limited to the standard horror movie scares. Here it is about an imagined fear used to take control. It is a great premise that is supposed to keep the audience guessing. The fight is behind palace walls and for the minds of the public. After all, lies and manipulation are a part of the political world.

Unfortunately, the idea gets abandoned too soon. There are some great action scenes and the aftermath of the possible monster attacks are vicious. The film’s use of CGI may by a little much for some, but it also makes for some great set pieces and effects. Still, it is hard to shake the fact the story is too predictable and lacks in emotional impact. The reveal is immediate and Monstrum quickly becomes another effects laden spectacle.

Thankfully, the chemistry between the cast is great. Monstrum adds surprising moments of humor that work. The jokes never seemed forced or out of place even though the characters may be fighting for their lives. The film does a great job of including comedic exchanges and physical comedy. It adds the levity which is always important in any bloody action story.

Monstrum has an interesting premise, great cast, and some well done special effects. The story is a tweak on the standard formula seen in similar films. The action is fast paced and will keep the audience’s attention. The pacing may will take some of the intrigue out of the movie, but fans of creature features will enjoy this South Korean film. 

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