Film Review: The Monster Project

Four skeptical young filmmakers spend the wrong night in a haunted house in this found-footage picture in the Blair Witch Project tradition.
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Long time pals Devon (Justin Bruening) and Jamal (Jamal Quezaire) make a few bucks posting homemade scary videos online, but Devon has bigger plans: He thinks they're ready to make a feature. They enlist the help of Devon's ex, Murielle (Murielle Zuker), who's still pissed off at him but is won over by the opportunity to direct, and the fragile Bryan (Toby Hemingway), who's fresh out of rehab (not for the first time) and still more than a little shaky. But having done his most recent stint in a faith-based program, he's feeling a little more capable of resisting a relapse.

Devon's online casting call for real-life monsters nets three camera-ready subjects: tattooed vamp Shayla (Yvonne Zima), who claims she's a real blood drinker; truculent Native American skinwalker Steven (Steven Flores), a homegrown werewolf; and high-strung Shiori (Shiori Ideta), who claims to be possessed by a demon and is a dead ringer for the vindictive Sadako of the Ringu movies. Devon has even found the perfect location in which to shoot: A rundown house with a bad reputation. It was even once home to a coven of Satanists. And, to top it all off, they start filming on the night of an eclipse. What could possibly go wrong?

Though the set-up feels more than a little hokey, The Monster Project does a surprisingly good job of developing its characters. The occasional bits of self-referential banter (notably allusions toThe Blair Witch Project and the black guy getting killed first) sound like the kid of snarky things they would say, at least before things go south, as they inevitably do. The making-a-documentary conceit works especially well for introducing the monsters/"monsters" (it doesn't matter whether or not they're real, Devon smugly assure his collaborators; people will watch either way): Shayla, Shiori and Steven get to reveal themselves without story-stopping exposition because the exposition is an integral part of the story.

All that said, the third act—also known as "the running and screaming"—goes on a little too long, to the detriment (at least for seasoned horror fans, this film's primary audience) of the big reveal. But it's still an above-average variation on a familiar theme and style, and in a market glutted with scary movies that's no small achievement.

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