It may take more than a few minutes to get comfortable with the world of The Monsters Without. Through quick introductory exposition, we learn that humans and monsters have been coexisting on the planet throughout time, and the beasts, called yablo, have assimilated to human life by taking on various forms that go unrecognizable to the human eye. An ancient Yablo called Nameless (Nick Medina) lands on the planet and threatens to forcibly gather all monsters and return them to their dimension.
Now, a rag-tag group of scientists named P.H.A.S.E. gather in the Philippines and resolve to defend the yablo and stop such a nefarious plot. The team is led by Setsuko (Christina Yr. Lim), a hard-edged Japanese-Korean woman, her fiance Rommel (Jake Macapagal), Rommel’s biologist sister Wonder (April Rose Estoy), intern Benito (Leonard Olaer), new recruit Miranda (Jessica MacCleary), and Americans April (Dana Jamison) and Richard (Andrew Reiley). Think of P.H.A.S.E., and writer/director Randal Kamradt’s fantasy adventure, as sort of an underfunded Men in Black.
As it is set in the Philippines, The Monsters Without delves into the rich folklore of the country, including the aswang, which is an umbrella term for a variety of creatures, including demons, witches, werebeasts, and other strange species. Unfortunately, all of this is treated with a campy vigor that can take some adjusting to appreciate the tone. The sound stage recording of most of the dialogue proves distracting as well. Still, there is such a demented enthusiasm that it’s difficult to deny its chaotic charms.
“…threatens to forcibly gather all monsters and return them to their dimension.”
The film can prove disorienting with its cast, as even though the actors all speak English, the script’s translation often feels stilted and confusing. The whole production is played broadly, leaning hard into the more comedic streak of what’s happening. Most of the lines are delivered with all the subtlety of a live-action children-centric sci-fi show. And yet, there are a number of more adult moments that may not be suitable for the young ones, so it’s not particularly clear as to what sort of audience the filmmaker is explicitly aiming for in any given scene.
That said, there is an impressive amount of affinity for the world of The Monsters Without, from the practical makeup effects to the icky visuals of its shape-shifters. It’s obviously done on a shoestring budget, but Kamradt takes the audience on a whirlwind ride through the Philippines and the fantastic beasts of its legends and where to find them. According to the director, he taught himself After Effects and Blender to create the visuals.
Despite its penchant for broad visual gags, the film also manages to craft some genuinely inspired moments in its journey, commenting on broader social issues with the country and the world. It reminded me of Psycho Goreman, which overcame its budgetary constraints by the sheer force of its conviction.
The Monsters Without doesn’t always work, and it won’t suit everyone’s tastes. Still, it pleads to be appreciated for its sanguine disposition and self-assured style that elevated it throughout its runtime.
"…difficult to deny its chaotic charms."