Monsters (2022)

Rating: D

Dir: Zhou Jie
Star: Liu Xinyan, Wu Xiaolim, Zhou Zejin, Wu Yufang
a.k.a. Monster

Hey, I tried. But it was largely apparent within a few minutes, that explanation – or even basic coherence – was not going to be the film’s strong suit. So it proved, with the characters spending the majority of the running time in just as much a state of confusion as the viewer. Doesn’t help that the title by which it’s being distributed in the West, sneakily adds an S on the end, thereby promising considerably more creature in its feature. The singular is closer to being accurate, and is of such limited interest, to the point that I couldn’t bring myself to include this in our When Chinese Animals Attack feature.

The start had some promise, with an animated prologue which looked as if it was done using cave drawings. This seems to hint at some kind of Chinese Agents of Monarch situation. Giants used to rule the earth, but an explosion released from underground, nocturnal monsters with the ability to incapacitate their prey with a sonic blast. Most of the giants fled, but eleven remained, and “built a prison in time and space,” using it to corral the beasts – but “it’s not impregnable”. Which brings us to the present day, where Gao Fei (Wu-X) is looking for his sister, who went missing some time previously during a solar eclipse. In another eclipse, she slips through a portal and finds herself in a mysterious forested realm.

She’s accompanied by Su Junbao, a quantum physicist, and Zhang Musheng (Wu-Y), who seems to be muscle. There’s also her dog, Master, and they’re shortly joined by Ayosayi. She seems to have strayed in from the Peking Opera, judging by her costume, but appears to be a guardian of the realm. Be nice if she provided a straightforward explanation, since she seems to know much more than Fei. No such luck. Instead, we get a lot of wandering around the wounds, bumping into alternate universe versions of themselves, going around time loops, and occasionally, meeting the one (1) monster still living in its trans-dimensional prison. It’s the kind of thing desperately in need of script rigour: either that was lacking, or it was lost in translation to the (undeniably imperfect) subtitles.

Fast-forwarding to the end – and I’d not blame you for resorting to this – they find a potential way to return to “our” world, at a circle of standing stones. However, by doing so, they risk the creatures – a couple more have shown up – following them and causing carnage back on the other side, unless the portal is closed sharpish. However, by this point, I couldn’t bring myself to care very much about the wholesale destruction of civilization as I know it. Indeed, the idea of a pack rampaging through downtown Shanghai or wherever might have been a damn sight better than anything this film had actually been able to offer. Sadly, no such luck. The distributors may have added an “S”. I’d tack on three more letters.