Monsterland hit Hulu this October just in time for Halloween. This is a new anthology horror series based on Nathan Ballingrud’s North American Lake Monsters. (2013; Small Beer Press) Though each tale woven in this series is focused on some sort of supernatural horror the true horror in each episode is humanity. Each tale explores the depth of human issues, and how we can become and sometimes are, the monsters we so fear. The stories are intertwined in ways, with events or people connecting them; but each being a story in and of itself. Some episodes stand out as great storytelling, others fall a bit flat. I recommend watching Monsterland, especially if you are interested in the human condition, even if it is not during halloween time. I know I will be hunting out North American Lake Monsters to read at some point, especially since it has 9 stories but the show only had 8 episodes.
With that out of the way I am going to rate and review each episode, and talk in depth about my favorite episodes. So without further ado, episode reviews
Port Fourchon, LA – 4/5
Starring Kaitlyn Dever as Toni this story follows a down her luck single mother. Toni lives a downright shitty life. Her daughter is prone to violent outburst biting and stabbing people. When Toni was younder attempted to have a “coat hanger” abortion but could not go through with it. Also Toni’s child’s father, who is not really in the picture, is abusive, the one time he visits he knocks out Toni and almost kills their daughter by drowning in the tub. It is just not a good life for Toni at all. Outside of that there is a serial killer, Alex (Jonathan Tucker), in the area. When this killer arrives at the diner Toni works at she ends up taking him in for the night at her place. It is quickly revealed that he is so much more than a serial killer, he can actually steal his victims’ skins becoming someone else. Alex confesses to Toni that he learned this ability from some supernatural character known as Mr Grey, who may even be the devil himself and is obsessed with humanity. This leaves Toni with a question, if you could become someone else wouldn’t you? So with the money Alex leaves behind, after becoming someone else, she heads out with her daughter to start anew, but there is something holding her back, connecting her to her old life, her daughter. Confronted with a choice, Toni leaves her behind in someone else’s car while she naps and “drives into the sunset” to start fresh.
Eugene, OR – 3/5
This episode tackles online radicalization head on. Starring Charlie Tahan as Nick, a down on his luck teenager who has to drop out of school to take care of his sick mother. Nick is scraping by at a minimum wage job which he loses, does not have health insurance preventing him from getting the meds his mom needs and they were both abandoned by Nick’s father long ago. Nick’s only escape seems to be online gaming, and one night he notices a shadow creature on his webcam. This sends Nick in search of answers, and he finds them on message boards. He is told by his new online friends the shadow creatures have always been lurking in the background, and they are there to ruin his life and only he can stop them. As the episode progresses Nick is pulled farther and farther down the rabbit hole, and being a smart kid creates a weapon to kill the shadow creature, this other which is destroying his life. When the moment comes, and Nick finally executes the shadow we are left wondering was any of it real, and did he just kill the thing dragging his life down, his mom.
New Orleans, LA – 5/5
New Orleans, LA is the chef’s kiss of this entire series. It tells an emotional story with some crazy consequences and is an amazing take on the crossroads myth. Before I go into this review, which will most likely be the longest in this article, I think we need to understand the crossroads myth. So the big thing is this episode is a retelling of the blues version of the crossroad myth. (More details can be found here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crossroads_(mythology) ) In this version of the myth a blues performer meets the devil at the crossroads and makes a deal to play guitar like no other, selling his soul and rock is born (See Cross Road Blues https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cross_Road_Blues#Lyrics_and_interpretation )
Alright with that understanding we can get into the episode review. New Orleans, LA stars Nicole Beharie as Annie. When the episode starts, Annie, her husband and son are at some sort of celebration in New Orleans. When Annies Husband, Joe Keller (Hamish Linklater), who is Annie’s sons step father, and son George (Christian and Sebastian Cole as Young Goerge, and Marquis Rodregues as Adult George) head into the crowd Annie is stopped by one of Joes friends and has an odd conversation. Just a bit later George runs back to his mother and he is hurt, he isn’t talking and when he finally does talk he says a monster with black eyes came after him. Before we have a jump forward we see a trumpet player open his eyes and they are black. We then have a significant time jump and it is a party for Joe to celebrate all the good work he has done as a children’s doctor, someone gets up to give a speech and when Joe confronts him the speaker punches Joe in the face. From there it is all down hill. The next day it is revealed that Joe has been sexually assaulting his young patients. Joe confesses this to Annie and quickly disappears from the episode. This becomes Annie’s horror story as she is trapped in her mansion, unable to contact her son and the Trumpet Player has returned just outside her house, right near a crossroad. When she confronts the Trumpet Player one night he bares his sharp teeth and bits her, she is able to overcome him and lock him up in the shed. Shortly after this George finally visits. Annie is covered in blood from the attack by the monster, which I still wonder if it was actually blood from her killing Joe, and Annie needs to face her last monster. All those years ago when George got hurt he told her what happened, Joe assaulted him too, and she ignored it. She was down on her luck and needed Joes money so she made a deal with the devil to increase her social standing. She denies knowing this forcing George to leave, and the Trumpet Player returns blasting her with supernatural notes until she finally pokes her eardrums out with an ice pick in an attempt to make it stop, which it doesn’t, she made her deal, and the devil has come to collect and there is no escape at this point. The episode ends on the Trumpet Player and his band, all black eyed with The Devils Horns as the name on their hats, as they surround Annie, making their collection of the soul due, in my opinion at least.
This episode is notable for one other thing, this is the first update we get on Toni from Port Fourchon, LA and that she is studying to be a dental hygienist. Toni is a very strong connective tissue through a few episodes, and shows that though the episodes are separated, they have connections.
New York, NY – 2/5
By far one of the weakest episodes, New York, NY stars Bill Camp as Stan and Michael Hsu Rosen as Josh. Stan is the monster though and through this episode, he is an energy magnate who is responsible for an oil spill in the gulf coast region. In trying to get out of his crimes he makes a deal with a god becoming possessed by something. As the episode progresses Josh starts to take care of Stan as he starts to fall ill, before finally giving over to the old god and requiring a faith healer to come in. It’s too late though, the god has been fed, releasing itself into the world to bring upon the end humanity has put on track. We are at last confronted by the final monster though, Josh, he thought he was doing the right thing and cared about things, but he never stopped Stan even though he had multiple chances to bring Stan and his company down from the inside because it would hurt his career. It leaves us to think when confronted with a greater social good will you always do what’s best for you, is it an inherent flaw in humanity.
Plainfield, IL – 4/5
Plainfield, IL follows Roberta Colindrez as Shawn and Taylor Schilling as Kate. Shawn and Kate are celebrating their 16th anniversary and all seems well though things are not as they always appear. We learn Kate is on medication and quickly learn she is bi polar and has attempted to kill herself multiple times this year, before the night is out Kate will try again and succeed. That’s all where it starts though, the next day Shawn wakes up and continues on with life, and Kate comes back as a zombie. As things continue we see how their life has been, and that there had been ups and downs before this. We see that Shawn was unable to let go when Kate tried to break things off because of who she was. In modern times things continue forward, and Kate gets worse slowly deteriorating in all ways as Shawn just tries to hold on. Kate wants to be dead though and tries to be. We are hit with the sad revelation that Shawn walked in on Kate’s sucuide and Kate wasn’t dead yet, but Shawn didn’t save her and now must atone for her sin by not letting Kate go. It all ends with a very, very deteriorated Kate in the basement and Shawn and Kate’s daughter coming home from boarding school. Though we see the light in Shawns eyes and possibly the ability to finally let go, we still need to deal with the fact her dead wife is in the basement and she has been living with this for who knows how long. Mental illness is a condition that affects everyone around it, and this episode really explores what that’s like for both parties and how hard it can be.
*If you are feeling suicidal, there are people out there who care about you, please seek help. The National Suicude Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-2738255*
Palacios, TX – 3/5
This episode stars Trieu Tran as Sharko. A fisherman who was injured by cleaning up the shores after an oil spill. (See New York, NY episode) He is no longer able to go out on the boats and warns other fishermen that the fish will all be bad still from the spill. One day he finds a Mermaid (Adria Arjona) covered in oil and decides to take her home to clean her up. We quickly find out that the mermaid is a carnivore and would love nothing more than to eat Sharko. As time progresses due to his loneliness and possible some siren song Sharko falls in love with the Mermaid even having a dream sequence in which she becomes human. Sharko is not without flaws though, he loved fishing and killing which he brags about to the Mermaid and has grown to think of the Mermaid as his property, which leads to Sharkos untimely end when he enters the mermaids tank for a kiss.
Iron River, MI – 4/5
This episode stars Kelly Marie Tran as Lauren. When we first meet Lauren she does not have a great life and lives with her alcoholic mother. She does have a best friend though, Elena (Sarah Catherine Hook) who seems to take advantage of their friendship using Laurens house to have sex with her boyfirend Peter (Ben Chase) as Lauren hids in the closet. This ends up leading to a fight, or at least we are left to think this, and Elena goes missing, The episode then jumps 10 years and Lauren has taken over Elena’s life, she is about to marry Peter, Elena’s mother has taken in Lauren and even gifted her the family wedding dress which has been used for 4 generations. Laurens bridesmaids are even Elana’s childhood friends. One of the bridesmaids really believes Lauren killed Elena all those years ago and we slowly get different versions of Elena going missing before we get Laurens version, one in which Lauren screamed in the woods and was just gone. Feeling a fraud Lauren runs into the woods and finally stumbles upon an old woman, and learns her story before learning the old woman kidnaped Elena to take in as her daughter. Before the confrontation is over the old woman gives Lauren an ultimatime, stay as my daughter and your friend can leave. The final scene shows Lauren walking away from the cabin, at this point fully taking over Elena’s life when given the choice. So you must ask yourself, if given the chance to take over someone’s life better than yours would you? This episode is almost like the “good” ending for our protagonist in relation to the Port Fourchon, LA episode.
Newark, NJ – 2/5
I do not know if I come in as a father of a daughter and this made this episode too emotional to enjoy but I thought this was the weakest episode of the entire series. Newark, New Jersey stars Mike Colter as Brian and Adepero Oduye as Amy. Mike and Amy lost their daughter 16 months ago in kidnapping. Mike bent down to get fallen change and when he looked up his daughter was gone. This episode really tackles grief and how we deal with it. Mike becomes an alcoholic and Amy starts attending a grief group believing her daughter is dead and even has an affair. The subplot is “angels” are falling to earth and drinking their blood gets you high. Mike saves an angel one day and in thanks it offers its blood which allows the grieving process to speed up and allows both Mike and Amy to accept the situation and reconcile their differences. The episode ends with Mike and Amy having sex and the angel killing itself over them bathing them in its blood. This allows Mike and Amy to go to a theater to watch their daughter dance one last time as the episode ends. It just really did not click as a good episode to me, the angel thing took it over the top and did not play out well in my opinion. The saving grace of this episode is mid way through Mike goes to a late night dinner and we finally get an update on Toni from Port Fourchon, LA. She and Mike drink, talk and dance and Toni tells Mike about the Angel Blood drug. This is cut with something and when Toni takes it she finally realizes she is a monter, which I thought was a great ending to Toni’s tale. This episode’s connection to Toni also makes me wonder if Mr Grey was the one who kidnapped Mike’s daughter and if Mr Grey has been the connecting thread in the entire series.