ArtsCinema & TV

Horror Anthology Monsterland presents a new kind of horror: A Review (Part I)

Critically acclaimed American horror drama series Monsterland makes its debut in Asia on February 17 on the FX Channel, with new episodes premiering every Wednesday. Based on Nathan Ballingrud’s novel North American Lake Monsters: Stories, Monsterland tells eight different stories about people dealing with loss, regret, guilt, and loneliness.

If you’re looking for a conventional horror drama, then I need to tell you straight that this isn’t for you. Monsterland’s interpretation of the horror genre explores more about the monsters inside us than relying on jump scares and the supernatural. 

So far, I’ve only watched the first two episodes, and I’m here to give you my thoughts on the series so far. But do take note, I’ll be including some spoilers in the review, though I’ll try to cut back on them as much as possible!

Overall Thoughts 

Monsterland Ep1 Toni
Kaitlyn Dever starring as Toni, a single mother struggling to support herself and her daughter who has behavioural issues

The first episode of Monsterland, titled Port Fourchon, Louisiana, features Unbelievable star Kaitlyn Dever starring as the episode’s main character Toni. Toni is a single young mother juggling her child, Jack, who has behavioural issues with ever-piling bills to pay. One day, she meets mysterious stranger Alex (Jonathan Tucker), who comes into town and offers her money in exchange for staying a night at her house. 

This episode was chock full of suspense as we find out about Toni and Jack’s past through a series of flashbacks. Though the non-linear storytelling could be a little disorienting at times, it served its purpose in building a strong background to the characters. 

With grim themes that were very much reminiscent of the film Mommy (2014) by Xavier Dolan, we see Toni navigate through her pitiful life as a single mother. We see her getting knocked unconscious by Jack’s father on Jack’s birthday; then we see a younger Toni flashback wanting to abort Jack before stopping due to the pain. The narration jumps back and forth from past to present as we see Toni struggle with having to care for her often problematic child, Jack, as well as the circumstances that led her there. But even with Jack’s screaming fits, we still see moments between mother and daughter that convinces us that Toni still loves Jack. 

Although as the episode progresses, the frustration she feels slowly starts to outweigh the love she has for her daughter. 

The story of Toni and Jack intertwines with the story of mysterious stranger Alex. Introduced with ominous lighting and questionable intentions, it was hard to trust Alex up to the end. The scene with the parallel editing between Toni preparing for bed with Jack and Alex making his way to her house felt like the most conventionally ‘horror’ part of the episode, with the fast cuts and dark silhouettes. When Alex showed up at Toni’s house, I was terrified of what he might do to her. 

Monsterland Ep1 Alex
Alex, an ominous character with questionable motives, shows up at Toni’s house

And that was then the show made a complete 180. I was shocked when the revelation about Alex and his (her?) real background was revealed, and the talk about new lives with skinsuits. It took me by surprise because of how the episode led me to a different train of thought the whole time.

At first glance, the story of Alex (or Alice) may seem unrelated to Toni and Jack’s. However, as we see Toni make an ultimate, horrible choice to Jack at the end of the episode, I think that’s when we see the parallel. It seems to me that Jack represented Toni’s skinsuit she needed to shed to have a new life — which she did. 

Honestly, I wasn’t all that surprised when I saw Toni do what she did, because of how her feelings of anger, regret and frustration were portrayed and cumulated by the end of the episode. Of course, I felt bad for Jack and Toni, as well as the circumstances that led them to where they were. Indeed, Toni made a monstrous choice, but at the same time, I couldn’t bring myself to blame or condemn her for it entirely. 

Ending Thoughts

In all, this was definitely a memorable first episode. What a way to kick off a horror anthology! I have to say, though the themes of the episode are rather heavy, and not for those looking for an easy-to-consume sort of thriller series. Also, there are some pretty visceral and graphic scenes in the episode, so for those who may not really like that kind of thing, do take note!

At least from this episode, Monsterland seems to set itself up to be a sort of psychological horror as well that explores the monsters and starkly conflicting realities that live within a person. Though, I have to admit there were some moments where I felt unnecessary scenes were added to add to the episode’s horror aspect or play up the pity I had to feel for Toni. I did enjoy this episode, as it was hard to tear my eyes off the screen because of the pure suspense throughout the episode. 

New episodes of Monsterland premiere on FX Asia on Singtel at 10pm (Singapore time)
Visuals Courtesy of © Sony Pictures Entertainment.

Monsterland Episode 1




Wan Xin Ng

A film student who loves cats, books and games!

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