When Casper’s (Sam Strike) dad is drowning in gambling debts and Dodge (Brandon Michael Hall) and Iris (Virginia Gardner) are expecting a baby, robbing the rich folks up in the hills seems like a good idea. Unfortunately, for the trio behind this heist in Monster Party, this big score won’t turn out how they think. A low-budget B-horror reminiscent of Don’t Breathe, The Invitation or even—liminally—Escape From Cannibal Farm, Monster Party pretty much knows what it is and what it wants to offer you in an easy 89 minutes.
Up on the hill, Mrs. Dawson (Robin Tunney) is anxiously expecting her guests and seems a bit off, despite it being clear that Iris has replaced her regular co-workers with her partners in crime. The tone of the night is amped up by the tension between herself and her husband, Patrick (Julian McMahon) and the sleazy presence of her predatory son Elliot (Kian Lawley). They’re all clearly hiding something and Casper, nor Iris or Dodge has the good sense to trust their guts.
“…need to get the hell out of town and start their lives fresh, away from trouble and trepidation.”
Which inevitably locks them into the party for the night, with a regular rogue’s gallery appearing, including the magnetic and demanding Milo (Lance Reddick), the de facto leader of this merry band of weirdos. In a phone interview, Reddick expressed joy in choosing the role and joining the project, saying “It’s such a scene chewing role [and] I don’t get to play roles like this often. Matter of fact, I’ve never played a role like this. And I loved the cast.” His rivalry with Patrick makes for good acting and a few much-needed pauses before the mayhem really gets going. When it does, the film is back on the rails, leading up to a series of predictable kills and thrills, and a revealing final scene that attempts to ‘flip the script’ on character psychology.
All this said, Monster Party’s strength is its first half. Writer-Director Chris von Hoffman takes a decent amount of time to map out his lead character’s needs and wants. And, were this not a midnight slasher family pic, I could see the film having some greater gravitas. While clichéd and abstractly location-less, you can feel these teens’ need to get the hell out of town and start their lives fresh, away from trouble and trepidation. However, Monster Party made promises about killing and high-contrast chiaroscuro, so we don’t wallow too long in these moments.
Rather, von Hoffman ensures we get back on the rails to terror, and the players follow suit. Kian Lawley’s Elliot shines as a creepy, sadistic killer—pushing comfort out the window with a hard shove in every scene he’s in. Meanwhile, Robin Tunney’s turn as a struggling addict and anxious mom is great, if only because there’s something relatable about trying to rescue a family gathering from the precipice of total chaos.
“…uses addiction as a narrative tool, but its heart is most certainly in that ‘family dinner’ dynamic…”
Monster Party uses addiction as a narrative tool, but its heart is most certainly in that ‘family dinner’ dynamic—like The Invitation, The Witch, Hereditary, It Comes At Night, or even The Killing of A Sacred Deer—it finds that the horror of these moments isn’t the killing, or the monster, but the unwieldy family ties that either hold these things at bay or potentiate them. On its own small scale, it does the work and gets its point across, and for that it deserves recognition.
So while it’s not engrossing in some well-heeled, Oscar-winning vote way, Monster Party knows its playbook and delivers in record time. Which is perfect when you’re looking for the kind of movie that gives you a fright without obligating you to think too much or belabor you with some heady rhetorical message.
Monster Party (2018) Directed by Chris von Hoffman. Starring Sam Strike, Brandon Michael Hall, Virginia Gardner, Robin Tunney, Julian McMahon, Kian Lawley, Lance Reddick.
7 out of 10 Glasses of Bubbly