So, here’s for the second part of my review. In this second episode of Monsterland, titled New Orleans, Louisiana, we delve into the psychology of Annie (played by Nicole Beharie) as she finds out a horrifying truth about her husband, Joe.
Much like the first episode, this one delves more into the psychological aspect of horror, even with an actual Devil’s appearance with a horn. Playing with unreliable narration, there is a lot more to this episode than meets the eye.
Again, this review will contain some spoilers, so do be warned!
Before I begin my review, I have to say I prefer this episode to the first one, if only for how much more striking it is in the plot, themes, and execution. We open in a carnival setting, where Annie’s son George gets lost in the crowd for a while before returning, scared. He tells Annie about a monster he saw, which Annie does believe (for obvious reasons).
We see how dedicated Annie is to Joe, George’s stepfather. It is only through how genuine her faith and trust in him seems to be that makes the fall even harder when she finds out the truth behind his perfect demeanour. Indeed, he seems to be a hero who saves lives, but in actuality, he destroys them as he is revealed to be a (spoiler alert) child rapist who sexually assaults his young patients.
Once Annie finds this out, we see the first encounter she has with the ‘The Devil’s Horn’, a trumpet player clothed in purple that is supposedly a demon. Seemingly normal at first glance, Annie approaches him to question whether he threw the stone in her house. As she moves closer, we see that his eyes are revealed to be completely black (even the whites), and his teeth are elongated as he attacks her.
And then comes one of the most visually and sonically striking scenes in the episode to me. As the trumpet sounds to play all around her and glass shatters, the editing, as well as the shaky camera movement, all come together to let the viewer’s in on Annie’s disillusionment and disorientation. We feel the chaos in her mind as she supposedly tries to run away from the horrific truth that has just surfaced, but at the same time, we’re not quite sure at this point if the devil actually exists or not.
From these two episodes, I can already see a pattern in the monsters that appear in Monsterland, and their thematic connections to our protagonist. As the episode nears its end, we hear from her son that, from the very beginning, there was no monster. The ‘monster; George spoke of was actually Joe assaulting him, and he had told his mother, but Annie could not come to terms with it.
That means she knew of Joe’s deeds from the very start, making this the second big revelation of the episode. The trumpet player and loud trumpet music seem to be Annie’s very own demon that she has been hiding away from. She runs away and yells, ‘Enough!, before the loud trumpet music returns once more.
Much like how we, as the viewers, cannot drown out the sound of the trumpet, the truth seems to be just as all-consuming for Annie. And as the trumpet blares grew louder and more unbearable, we can feel Annie’s desperation to drown it out and just stop it. And in her moment of utter despair, she tries to deafen herself using an ice-pick. (This part was a little hard to watch for me, and I cringed a little.)
Here’s when it gets tricky — we see her walk through a cemetery and hear a final intake of breath (which could be interpreted as her last). This means the last scene could very well be a final hallucination of hers before she took her own life. Unable to bear the truth and her own involvement in it (by how she ran away from the truth when George first told her), Annie breaks apart and leaves only her guilt and desperation behind.
I think the thematic parallels and execution of this Monsterland episode were done well, and I was engrossed in every minute of the episode. I really love these kinds of shows where it is very open to interpretation and has many connections that you can draw together.
Whether the trumpet player represented her fear and guilt about the truth, or the manifestation of her dissociation from it, or something else, opens up discussions between viewers. This episode is one of those shows where you would just want to talk to your friends about it after watching it.
From these two episodes, I can see where Monsterland is trying to take its viewers. With monsters that reflect more on how they manifest in ourselves and playing more on human psychology than jump scares and whatnot, I think there is great potential in the series thus far. I would highly recommend this series to anyone who’s a fan of horror!
New episodes of Monsterland premiere on FX Asia on Singtel at 10pm (Singapore time)
Visuals Courtesy of Sony Pictures Entertainment.