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Review: 'Monsterland' is Great Storytelling When it isn't Being Sexist

by Kitty Drexel
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday Sep 25, 2020
Kaitlyn Dever in 'Monsterland'
Kaitlyn Dever in 'Monsterland'  

"Monsterland" is an eight-episode Hulu series based on the science fiction/horror stories in Nathan Ballingrud's "North American Lake Monsters." The series premiers on October 2. Viewers can discover more information on Hulu.com.

As in Ballingrud's anthology, these stories flip traditional fairy tales on their heads. This new show will be a draw for both horror and drama fans with a penchant for big names and creature stories. Kaitlyn Dever is a down and out mother who befriends a skinwalker. Nicole Beharie confronts a trumpet playing demon. Taylor Schilling is undead. Trieu Tran rescues a mermaid. Kelly Marie Tran meets a wicked witch in a haunted forest. Mike Colter and Adepero Oduye rescue an angel.

It is normal and expected that an author's works be changed to fit the screen. In episode "Plainfield, IL," the character of Shawn (Roberta Colindrez) is made a woman. She's celebrating fifteen years with Katie (Taylor Schilling). This episode is about mental health complications within a marriage and the domestic abuse that can result. The writers are refreshingly straightforward in their treatment of the couple. They aren't special because of their identities. They get to experience intense supernatural trauma just like any hetero couple.

Trigger warning: The first episode, "Port Fourchon, LA" opens with extended graphic violence against a woman. "Monsterland" regularly perpetrates abuse against female-identifying individuals, but shies away from similar depictions against men. It's as if the male writers and directors were squeamish when it came to violence against the male-heroes. Meanwhile, we're meant to believe that the violence perpetrated against the female characters provides narrative depth.

As in Ballingrud's anthology, these stories flip traditional fairy tales on their heads. This new show will be a draw for both horror and drama fans with a penchant for big names and creature-stories.

This double standard is briefly righted for the episode "New York, New York." Bill Camp ("The Outsider," "Dark Waters," "Quest for the Stanley Cup") is the spitting image of a healthy Harvey Weinstein. In this episode about exorcism, Camp plays Stanley Price, a corrupt businessman hiding from a national scandal. Camp's character receives the kind of treatment Weinstein deserves. It's sweet retribution.

"New York, New York" also features Michael Hsu Rosen ("Lavender," "Jessica Jones") as Josh, the assistant.

Aside from the tasteless violence, "Monsterland" has intricate sound design, gorgeous use of color in its cinematography, and phenomenal makeup design. It's great storytelling when it isn't sexist.

"Monsterland" is created, written and executive produced by Mary Laws ("The Neon Demon," "Succession," "Preacher") and executive-produced by Babak Anvari ("Under the Shadow," "Wounds,"). A roster of directors took the helm to interpret Ballingrud's work: Desiree Akhavan, Babak Anvari, Eagle Egilsson, Anne Sewitsky, and others. The series is produced by Annapurna Television.

"Monsterland," based on Nathan Ballingrud's "North American Lake Monsters," is now streaming at Hulu: www.Hulu.com

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