Emma is kidnapped and imprisoned by a trio of psychopaths.
While technicalities and specific story details will vary from one film to the next, almost all entries in the rape/revenge sub-genre feature a handful of the same tropes and follow a very similar structure. An innocent woman, through no fault of her own, finds herself kidnapped or otherwise held against her will by one or more sadistic men.
These men beat her, torture her, sexually assault her, and verbally abuse her. On the verge of giving up, the woman makes a daring escape and, rather than hiding or reporting her attackers to the police, she instead takes matters into her own hands, getting her revenge in the most brutal, violent, graphic ways possible. With few exceptions, that is the brief synopsis of every rape/revenge movie, from 1978’s I Spit on Your Grave to, well, 2015’s I Spit on Your Grave 3: Vengeance is Mine.
And so, seeing as how the die-hard fans are familiar with the formula and know exactly what to expect, the focus has shifted from the plotline to the brutality, both of the initial assault as well as the revenge – how dark and disturbing is it, how gory is it, how vicious is it? This is why the sub-genre hasn’t lost any steam over the past 40+ years, and this is why movies like I’ll Never Die Alone, Revenge is Her Middle Name, and our focus for today, We Are Monsters, have no problem finding an audience.
We Are Monsters was released in 2015 by the Swedish filmmaking team behind gorefests like Wither, Madness, and Blood Runs Cold (writer/directors Sonny Laguna and Tommy Wiklund and co-writer David Liljeblad). Here we follow Emma (Hanna Oldenburg, who starts the film with some shaky acting, but seems to find her groove as the tension rises), an Australian businesswoman who has just arrived in America. After a brief meeting, she finds a taxi driven by Shirley (Niki Nordenskjold, a Swedish television actress who unfortunately passed away just before this film was released). Shirley soon pulls over, feigning car trouble, and knocks Emma out. Rather than arriving at the press conference where she is expected, Emma finds herself in a dirty cabin, tied to a chair, watching two strange men insult and then kill an already beaten and bloody woman. Things only get worse from here.
A high point of We Are Monsters comes in the form of the antagonists, Jim (Ralf Beck) and Pete (Tobjorn Andersson). While these characters aren’t wholly original – the sadistic leader and his half-witted, servant-like buddy – there is enough “unknown” in their characters to make the audience feel a little unsure what to expect. Jim is a vicious, hate-filled, blood thirsty psychopath, forcing himself on Emma, berating her, abusing her, and even sometimes attacking Pete. But at the same time, we know he has a wife and a young son who he loves, and he shows what might be interpreted as “kindness” toward Emma – he goes so far as to threaten Pete, warning him he better not even touch her while he is gone, which lets the audience know that Pete is a dangerous individual and that Jim cares, at least a little, for Emma. On the other hand, maybe he’s that sadistic, and just making sure he gets to keep her all to himself?
All of this is enough to cause the audience the smallest bit of confusion, if only temporarily – we might sympathize with the occasional murderers (Devil’s Rejects, for example), but never with rapists. Jim aside for a moment, who is this Shirley character? How does she match up with these two rapists? And are we being asked to feel for Pete, who we can see is not playing with a full deck, but is perhaps also being taken advantage of by his “friend,” and is possibly also enduring a bit of a disconnect from reality (we see him constantly watching slasher films showing women in peril, which makes me wonder if the directors are saying something with this seeming throwaway detail)? Lots of looming questions help not only keep the audience engaged, but also separate We Are Monsters from the pack, even if only a little bit.
Aside from a couple of really nasty bad guys, this film also heartily delivers in the gore department. There is a whole lot of blood and viscera to go right along with all the sadism and brutality, and it looks really great, perfectly fitting with the dark and dingy settings. And, as usual, there is a nasty final act, where the hunted becomes the hunter (no spoilers there, I’m sure – this is the same in nearly every one of these films)…and, as usual, we’re left wondering: did she (in this case, Emma) do what she did because she has lost her mind, because she is so angry she has lost control?
Or did the directors go a little overboard to make the audience feel a bit better about watching her beat down for the past hour, to help us all feel a little less guilty for enjoying the destruction of a fellow human being on screen? It’s hard to say, but the finale of We Are Monsters is sure to bring an uneasy smile to the faces of fans of the subgenre. And really, that’s what this all boils down to – this is a movie made with a specific audience in mind, the horror fans that love the “no holds barred” approach of non-American films, the exploitation fans who love watching a woman get revenge, the splatter fans who want their TV screen covered in red when all is said and done. It’s not treading any new ground, and it’s certainly not their masterpiece, but We Are Monsters is a worthwhile horror movie by an up-and-coming filmmaking team, and if you fall into any of the above-mentioned groups of sickos and perverts, We Are Monsters deserves a spot on your “to be watched” list.