Saturday, October 12, 2013

Nit picking MONSTERS WANTED (2013)

This is a documentary about Rich Teachout and Janel Nash who, along with some friends and investors decided to take all of their money (I do mean ALL of their money) and invest it into a haunted attraction because they love horror and scary things.

As I sit here and write this I'm in a weird position and I'm in a quandary- do I review the film straight on as a film or do I break down and contact the filmmaker and get all of the answers to all of the questions I have? I say this because this film is almost great.It almost is the film on making a haunted house attraction...the problem is that the film has left me with any number of questions and made me wonder why and how some of the choices were made. However since my rule is a film has to stand on it's own without press notes, without explanation by the filmmakers before or after the fact, I'm going to have to take the film on it's own terms.

On it's own terms Monster Wanted is a good look at what it takes to put a haunted house together. This is a film that really shows what it's like behind the scenes. Starting several months before the attraction opens, it's being run on the grounds of a local paintball/action sport shop/field. We watch as the group tries to build the haunts, gather the monsters, the costumes and effects, and pull it all together. Of course there are problems like not enough time, building inspectors surprise visits, over spending , personality conflicts and actors who are afraid of the dark. The film counts down to opening night before leaping to the final night and the teary goodbyes. We also see some of the competing haunted attractions in the area.

As anyone who know me knows I've been a part of the  vast Halloween displays that my brother has done off and on for the last three decades.  I've seen the madness behind the scenes and Monsters Wanted nails it to a T.

I love that you get to see what it's like behind the plywood walls.This is a warts and all look at what goes on, the fights, the disagreements, the successes and the cut corners. You see how and why people are willing to throw so much of their time, money and selves into doing something like this. It ain't all glamour, butt it can be a great deal of fun and the film largely conveys that.

The problem is that the film is weirdly organized. I'm not sure if it's the result of the filmmakers being much too close to their subjects that they can't see it would play to the world at large, or simply the fact that they weren't around to record bits and pieces. Watch how some events seem to transpire as if the camera was coming in in the middle of events, the opening and closing night festivities, the woman who gets the concussion (okay I'll give you that, they weren't planning on a concussion)

Some things are not completely explained- frequently we watch people doing making things but there is no explanation of what we are seeing. What are these attractions they are building and where are they? For example we never really get a sense of the haunted attraction as anything but pieces. There is no attempt at a walk through or a map with the result as people are talking about say Zombie City or the carnival  we have no idea where they are in relation to each other. Additionally we are told that the pieces have to drive the scare forward, from where to where? I would have loved if there could have been a walk through- even as a DVD extra of the attraction at night from start to finish.Yes I know it would have been dark but I would have liked to have seen more of it.

We get to know some people but not others and it makes for a bumpy ride, who are some of the people really who are they outside of the fleeting moments we see them in the film? For example at the end of the run there are tearful goodbyes and we see people saying goodbye but we never really got to know who they were. The most telling is a little girl who acts as a zombie- we see her do her spiel and then her mom talks about her health problems and her shyness and how being a zombie helps her get over that- why didn't we see any of this earlier? We could have used a lot less of  Rich and Janel talking about being tired and not sleeping and more of people talking about what this means to them.(The talk of lack of sleep and I have too much to do,while being exactly how it no doubt is dulls the movie  and it's that repeated mantra- almost from the start- that makes all the other small flaws seem worse)

The  last bit I'm going to complain about is that explanations of some things we should know are not there. For example through out the film everyone is talking about how many years they have been doing haunted house attractions, but it's never made clear how long this attraction has been open. Are the events documented the first year or the fourth? Is the Rich and Janel's first year involved? The guy who owns the action sport place where it's held talks about how many years he's been doing it, but Rich and Janel talk as if it's their first. I'm confused.

(I'd also like to know how the chainsaw guy keeps getting hired when he injures multiple people every year. Insurance allows it? Maybe not after they see this film)

None of the material is bad it's just that much of the film is lacking explanation, or if not explanation then context- there is little context for much of it. I kind of went along with things at the start and didn't write down my questions because I was certain that everything would be explained (and I was being carried along), but it never happened, we're simply marched through events.

This is not in any way to say the film is bad, it's not, actually far from it, it's simply to say that what should have been a truly great film is just a good one.

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