Sophie’s 18th birthday becomes a bloodbath when monsters descend upon her house and start to devour the party guests. Sophie and her friends must rally together to send their party crashers back to hell.
Some movies tattoo themselves into your memory and/or soul and utterly alter your view of life, humanity, and art. Other films make you fear for the future of cinema and human intelligence.
We are not here to discuss either of those types. Instead, let’s talk about “Book of Monsters”.
A young girl swipes an ancient book from a chest. Instead of fleeing through a dungeon, she scurries back to her bedroom and proceeds to read the book under the covers. She is discovered by her mother, who, against her obvious better judgement, proceeds to tell a story about one of the monsters shown in the book. Considering the book has an inverted pentagram on the cover, it is little surprise that something creepy seems to appear under the little girl’s bed. The mother arms herself with a pocket knife and is swiftly pulled under the bed. As the creature begins to crawl up the foot of the bed, the girl screams.
Many years later, that same young girl is about to turn 18. She and her friends plan a blow-out birthday party to celebrate. They just have to get her dad out of the house, and then let the good times roll.
Unfortunately, the school bullies get the invitations and hand them out to random people. They also hire a stripper to give the timid birthday girl a special dance. With the party already in shambles, the bullies then reveal how Sophie, whose birthday it is, spent a year in the nut house because she swore a monster tore her mother to pieces.
While disaster reigns in the main room, a very determined random guest arrives and begins sniffing everyone she crosses paths with. She choses a dorky fellow, ignores the drama around them, and leads him into Sophie’s bedroom. There, she finds the ancient tome Sophie kept to remember her mom and uses it to perform a blood ritual. Poor dorky guy. The ritual brings forth a group of creatures who proceed to attack the party members in gruesome fashion.
Based on that description, “Book of Monsters” might sound a bit familiar. In fact, most of the film has the air of bits and pieces culled from other films, many of them classics, as well as a number of tried-and-true horror film tropes. Despite that cobbled-together set up, the film manages to avoid leaving you feeling, “Oh, here we go again.” All the well-worn elements actually come together (partially with your brain filling in the sketchy areas) into a blend that almost feels like a cinematic heaping plate of mac and cheese – visual and intellectual comfort food for the horror fans.
The characters are all familiar after years of teens in horror films, whether they be slashers, supernatural, or creature features. Some characters would be at home in an 80’s hairspray festival and others fit the 90’s era teen shockers. They all fit into the events of the film like well-worn puzzle pieces, and none of them pull your attention away from the constant flow of plot points and splattery bits.
Story and plot are, as previously stated, a bit bare-bones and familiar, but the style and spin the filmmakers add to their scenes are not unlike watching a low-budget version of the Coen Brothers putting their unique touch on a remake of a “Father Knows Best” episode – standard elements are twisted just slightly to keep your interest on the screen. While there are not more than a couple of “Ooh, cool!” moments, you shouldn’t fall asleep with the variety of odd events on display.
All the good things one can say about “Book of Monsters” are tempered by a couple of issues that mar the film. Mainly, while keeping their budget under control, their shooting locations were either very tight or camera placement was poorly planned as a good number of scenes do not capture the action well, as if the camera is too close. You end up with a lot of motion, but you almost have to wait until things stop before you can be utterly clear who did what to whom. While annoying, it never pushes itself to full-blown frustration.
The other issue relates to the setting for most of the action. The bulk of the movie takes place inside Sophie’s home and that much is fine, if a bit cramped. Unfortunately, a few characters and monsters wander outside the house. The environment in which the house is situated is sketchy at best. Characters wander down paths, around out buildings, wield chainsaws, and make a fair amount of noise. Are we in the country? In a residential neighborhood? The police do eventually show up, but, again, the viewer is left wondering if someone in a neighboring house had rather depraved visitor or just wondered about all the screaming. While the film is a fantasy, the house shouldn’t feel like it exists in its own dream world.
“Book of Monsters” most likely won’t stick with you forever or traumatize you into giving up on movies. The film is one of those enjoyable works that you can watch without feeling guilty but don’t expect to have a passionate response to it. Nothing wrong with cinematic comfort food, and “Book of Monsters” leaves a pleasant, if faint, feeling of satisfaction once it ends.