Mark Polonia is best known (if he is at all) for his ridiculous, though insanely fun, output such as Shark Encounters Of The Third Kind and Deadly Playthings. These productions intentionally trade on their low-budget schtick with absurd premises that ask the viewer to laugh and have fun, as the movie is in on the joke. Reel Monsters, which Polonia directs from a screenplay by John Oak Dalton, is a bit of a departure from form for the filmmaker. Instead of being an over-the-top creature feature, this is more of a fantastical kid adventure with a very dramatic streak. Does the change of pace for Polonia prove to be a boon or bane?
Cory (Dawson Hilfiger) moves around a lot due to his dad’s job. While it did take some getting used to, he quickly learned to adapt and make friends in each new city. Now, the tween and his parents, Will (Shane Nickerson) and Beth (Natalie Himmelberger), have moved back to his parents’ hometown. At school, Cory hits it off with the other film buffs, Boone (Nicholas Owen), Sandra (Sohpie Guss), and Millie (Grace Hines). They fill him in on the town’s local legends while the teacher (principal?) Mr. Kapatelis (a wonderful cameo by the underrated Titus Himmelberger) helps him get the lay of the land.
Back home, Cory finds out that something has happened to his father. Though his mom won’t get into the specifics, she does keep mentioning an old movie Cory’s dad made when he was a child in the area. Cory and his new friends watch the film and discover it reveals a real-life sasquatch. They decide to venture into the woods to seek the truth of what they saw and try to save Cory’s father. They receive help from Boone’s sister, Bobbi (Hannah Guss). Is bigfoot real? Why are men tailing Cory and staking out his home? Is his dad in mortal peril?
“…venture into the woods to seek the truth of what they saw and try to save Cory’s father.”
Reel Monsters cuts between the present-day adventure and the footage shot by Cory’s dad. This interplay builds anticipation by slowly revealing what was filmed all those years ago, only for the actual truth to be much more dangerous than anyone could have predicted. The basic setup and a lack of subplots streamline the whole thing, so the pacing is excellent, and the movie runs maybe 75 minutes. In, out, done.
On the acting front, things are a bit more of a mixed bag. Hilfiger is fine, and Hines shines in all of her scenes. But, the kid playing a young Will, Lucien Limberg, is only so-so. The same can be said for the bully characters, who are not as threatening as intended. However, a brief turn from the always fun Ken Van Sant and Natalie Himmelberger’s performances help ground the proceedings quite nicely. As does Hannah Guss, who proves to be the glue to the main group.
Polonia does a swell job balancing the sense of danger and fun, so Reel Monsters really can be enjoyed by viewers of any age. While some of the acting isn’t the best, given the limited resources and most of the cast’s age, that is hardly a huge deal. Plus, the thing is entertaining and engaging, flaws and all.
"…really can be enjoyed by viewers of any age."