Halloween is just around the corner (yes, I’m aware it’s a month away—but I’m one of those film fans that marks the whole month as ‘Halloween’), and it’s prime time to search for the best scary watches for the month of October. Hulu has been a great source for horror content for some time now, between its regular array of strong horror film offerings, the ‘Into the Dark’ TV movie collaborations with Blumhouse, or high quality original series like Castle Rock. One forthcoming original anthology series, Monsterland, is an absolute must watch for horror fans. It premieres on the service October 2nd.
Monsterland is an eight-episode anthology series created by Mary Laws (The Neon Demon) and based on horror author Nathan Ballingrud’s award-winning short story collection “North-American Lake Monsters”. Each episode is an original, independent story with distinct themes, feels, and horrors, and for horror lovers the series has everything from mermaids to ‘angels’, invading shadows to the undead. This isn’t the first Hulu Original based on Ballingrud’s work: last year the streaming service picked up the feature film Wounds, based on the author’s novella The Visible Filth.
Ballingrud’s stories may fit the horror bill, but each story is closer to an Ari Aster-style of character-driven horror (with a monstrous Guillermo del Toro twist) than any stereotypical horror approach of having disposable characters as plot devices. In my interview with the author, he outlines his approach:
“[The stories in there] are very grounded in reality, and the supernatural element is kind of a side element in most of the stories… The core idea for a lot of the stories was to write about characters who would be background characters in more conventional stories. For example, in ‘Monsters of Heaven’, something is happening–angels are falling to the Earth (or at least what they think are angels). I imagined the conventional story would focus on what was happening and why it was happening. I decided to care about this particular family in this particular circumstance, and what happens when they take one home. [I write about] a lot of people who are down and out and whose lives were jostled by something supernatural.”
Along with each episode having different stories to tell, each also has different directors and casts with four episodes written by Mary Laws and the final episode directed by executive producer Babak Anvari (Wounds, Under the Shadow). Each episode having its own style, themes, different and talented cast, and director is both a blessing and a curse—depending on your interests your rhetorical mileage may vary from episode to episode. Additionally, not all the episodes land as well as the rest—I’ll avoid specifics because, as noted, preference will affect your experience.
Still, the vast majority are very successful with rich emotional performances and strong storytelling, and all the episodes are beautifully shot and well directed with a wide range of great creature design (I’ll vouch for any series that gives me angels, mermaids, the undead, shadow-invaders, and more in the same season). On balance, if you’re looking for a host of new stories to watch that are full of surprises, the anthology is nice format for any viewer with an open mind—each episode is a brand new, scary emotional adventure.
Overall, the series is a great fit for thoughtful horror viewers. Each episode has a ‘bigger picture’ moral lesson reinforced by the protagonists’ story, but they’re rarely too ‘on the nose’ (and just as often demonstrated by characters’ moral failures as their successes). It’s likely to be a series you’ll take your time with, because (again, like Ari Aster films) these stories are heavy—characters suffer, their souls are laid bare, sometimes they err, and they’re met with new and novel horrors each time. (Episode 3, ‘New Orleans’ Louisiana’, and Episode 5, ‘Plainfield, IL’, are excellent but they’ll absolutely emotionally stay with you for at least the next day).
Monsterland is definitely a journey I’d recommend for fans of thoughtful horror or TV in general (Twilight Zone fans, this is for you, too). It is in general a fantastic set of well -told stories with strong performances, and based on emotionally rich, well written source material (’North American Lake Monsters’ is one of my favorite collections of short horror fiction—check it out). The series premieres October 2nd on Hulu, and it’s easily worth being on your October horror watch-list.
Source: Forbes – Business