Starring: Kaitlyn Dever, Taylor Schilling, Charlie Tahan, Roberta Colindrez, Jonathan Tucker, Adria Arjona, Nicole Beharie, Kelly Marie Tran, Trieu Tran, Mike Colter, and more.
Directed by: Various
Written by: Aalia Brown, Emily Kaczmarek, Scott Kosar, Mary Laws, Wesley Strick
Runtime: Each episode runs approx. 53 minutes
Rated: Not rated (for gore, violence, language, and drug use)
Reviewed by Michael Juvinall – Horror Patch
Monsterland debuts on Hulu on Friday, October 2nd!
Monsterland is a new horror anthology series consisting of eight one-hour episodes. Each episode is stand-alone and is named for different cities in the United States in which the episode takes place. The series is based on a book of short stories entitled, North American Lake Monsters by Nathan Ballingrud. The series was created by Mary Laws (Succession, Preacher, The Neon Demon) who also wrote five of the episodes.
Monsterland is a really great show but don’t expect a series full of monsters all the time. Don’t get me wrong, the monsters are there but they’re not the main focus of the stories. It’s also hard to determine just who is more of a monster in each story, the actual monsters, or the main characters. Also, anyone looking for neat, tidy endings, you’re not going to find them here. This series is extremely grim and melancholy. It is dark beyond belief and disturbing in many instances. Monsterland is a world of broken people and real shitty situations. Unfortunately, it’s more true to life than many would like to admit. To me, that’s what makes this show so watchable. So many people are going through tough times now, it’s a fresh look at so many daily lives through the lens of the horror genre.
As I mentioned, each episode is stand-alone and the only thing relating the episodes is one kind-of central character, Toni (Kaitlyn Dever). She appears in three episodes as the same character. She is what grounds the episodes as part of the same universe.
The pilot episode, Port Fourchon, LA. features a young woman, Toni (Kaitlyn Dever – Booksmart) who questions her choices in life and yearns for something better. She’s a waitress in a dead-end job with a young daughter who has severe anger problems. Toni meets a mysterious man, Alex (Jonathan Tucker) that helps her to see there are infinite paths in life.
In episode 3: New Orleans, LA., A New Orleans socialite wrestles with her past. A mother, Annie (Nicole Beharie – Sleepy Hollow) to a young boy marries a wealthy pediatric doctor to get herself out of a downtrodden past. But the man she marries has troubles of his own making and is at heart a monster. Fourteen years later, still married, Annie and her husband are confronted by both their terrible pasts, and it’s hard to determine which one is the real monster here.
There is more than one stand out episode on display in Monsterland. In episode 5: Plainfield, IL., a suburban lawyer debates life and death. Shawn (Roberta Colindrez) and Kate (Taylor Schilling) are a married couple and are both excellent lawyers. Kate has bipolar disorder and makes Shawn’s life a real wreck trying to deal with her illness. Kate takes an action that will affect Shawn for the rest of her life but Shawn has to deal with her decision regarding Kate’s future.
Episode 7: Iron River, MI., a neglected teen daughter longs for another life. Lauren (Kelly Marie Tran – Star Wars: The Last Jedi) covets her best friend’s life because her mom is a drunk and doesn’t want her. Lauren will do anything to live her best friend’s life, even during a tragic situation.
The series features all manner of monsters including mermaids, witches, zombies, fallen angels, shadow creatures, and more but the series is not really about those kinds of monsters. It’s more about the monsters within us all and it shows us these types of monsters are far worse than any supernatural creature could ever be.
Monsterland is not without drawbacks – for even a show about monsters isn’t as scary as you would expect it to be. Some of the episodes have their share of gut-wrenching sequences but they never really take viewers into any really scary territory. It misses the mark on the frights.
The acting in the series is very top-notch. In fact, I would say that some of the performances are award-worthy. Kaitlyn Dever delivers some really great performances in her three appearances in the show as Toni the waitress. Also, Nicole Beharie is exceptional in episode 3: New Orleans. She gives a very credible performance as a mom trying to escape her past. I also very much enjoyed Trieu Tran’s turn as Sharko, the disabled fisherman in episode 6: Palacios, TX.
Overall, I enjoyed Monsterland and I look forward to seeing what they come up with for Season 2 (If there is one). Just add a bit more frights.
3 ½ Pentagrams!