Monster Party (2018)
by Catie Moyer
There are many groups devoted to supporting recovery from addiction. Well, what if there were such a group that offered support for psychopaths? I imagine this conversation sounds a lot like the pitch meeting for Monster Party (2018). A shiny hack-and-slash with a moderately interesting premise, Monster Party is a fun, albeit superficial, caper that dances with ideas of classism and addiction.
The opening sequence sets the tone of idyllic elites. We’re shown a wealthy nuclear family — the lotus eaters of society. It closes out on the beautiful daughter as her expression changes from amusement to concern: something is rotting her perfect life. The title card blares, letting us know that here, there be monsters.
Cut to: the first heist. Equally beautiful teenagers robbing a suburban homestead. They are all adept at their craft. Casper (Sam Strike) cuts the alarm systems while Dodge (Brandon Michael Hall) replaces locks to avoid detection. Iris (Virginia Gardner) distracts the snooty yuppies as they return home with bids for the environment. The message of “the rich deserve it” is overbearing and carries over as Dodge and Iris plan their next big score. They are addicted to the rush. Casper, however, wants out.
Unfortunately, Casper’s father has an addiction of his own: gambling. His father’s debt soaring and unable to pay the prototypical strip club owner/bookie, Casper sees only one solution. In the style of any good heist film, it’s one last big score. Posing as caterers, the trio gear up and roll out to the family home from the film’s opening montage and again we’re told these people with their grand Hellenic columns and topiary gardens deserve to get robbed. Or at least that they can afford to lose ten grand. A simple robbery structured around class warfare.
Yet the eccentricities of the family quickly become unsettling. Matriarch Roxanne Dawson (Robin Tunney) is overly concerned with the appearance of the grubby catering staff, and becomes a subservient housewife as soon as Patrick Dawson (Julian McMahon) enters and invades Iris’s personal space. Their son, Eliot (Kian Lawley), bluntly addresses the sexual excitement of having Iris for himself. In fact, many of the male party attendees view Iris as an object worth having, and use it to push Dodge’s buttons. The eclectic cast of party-goers exudes privilege — the having and taking what they want when they want it. This perversion goes much deeper than simple money and power. These preppy urbanites take lives.
In typical “heist goes wrong” fashion, the film intercuts between Casper and Dodge maneuvering the house’s security system and the reveal of just how sinister these party guests are. They sit at dinner and discuss their addiction, praise their recovery, and the audience sits on pins and needles with the knowledge that if you hand an alcoholic a beer, they’re probably going to drink. The tension is undercut, however, by the lack of depth to these killers. They all seem on the brink of self-destruction rather than well into recovery. Only Roxanne exudes a desire to be reformed while everyone else is just waiting for their next victim. Good thing we have three ripe young thieves in the house.
In short order, the alarm goes off and chaos ensues.
There are constant attempts to raise the stakes, introducing a madman in the basement and a late-in-the-game pregnancy angle, and yet they all fall into the fault of too little, too late. The cat-and-mouse drags as the villains just aren’t as interesting as their dinner conversation led us to believe. The looney tunes antics are campy and humorless. It’s a story run amok, unclear if it’s meant to be funny or meaningful.
The tone shifts moment-to-moment and all the while our curiosity about these people and their lives wanes into obscurity. Maybe that’s the point - maybe we’re not supposed to care about yuppie scum - they’re just slowly murdering us and pretending like they’re good people. But just like the pool game in the final moments of the chase, it’s shallow and uninspired.
Given the story and struggle with tone, I can’t help but wonder what the film was trying to be. At its core, Monster Party is about the frailty of addicts and how close we all are to giving into our addictions. The biggest problem of the film is trying to root itself in an “us vs. them” class warfare struggle that degenerates the stakes. It very literally casts the villains as the Mr. & Mrs. Moneybags of society and hyperbolizes their greed for money as greed for blood. Maybe this film is just as the title suggests: a party with no deeper meaning or depth. With that in mind, it’s a fun gamble for Shudder subscribers.