By this point, we’re all very familiar with the notion that “humans are the real monsters” in speculative genre work. Mon Mon Mon Monsters takes that idea, kicks it in the balls, and then squeezes a lemon and onion juice cocktail into its eyes. This is a must-see vision of end-stage nihilism.
[Click here to see io9's statement on this year’s Fantastic Fest.]
The majority of characters in Mon Mon Mon Monsters are high school students, so it follows that they’re all pretty awful to each other. The target of the most concentrated awfulness is Shu-Wei (Eugene Liu), a meek, gangly boy who gets framed for stealing class activity funds. Even after he gives proof that the crime was committed by a gang of cool-kid bullies, his teacher makes Shu-Wei do community service with his tormentors. Yes, they’re assholes, but he still needs to figure out how to get along with them, the Buddhist instructor essentially says.
The community service provides a fateful brush with the supernatural. While they’re abusing and making fun of the housebound elders they’re supposed to be feeding and checking in on, the kids witness a ghoul-like monster getting hit by a bus. They take the unconscious ghoul-girl back to to their abandoned swimming-pool lair and proceed to taunt and torture it. Internet sleuthery reveals that ghoul-girl and her older sister were once human but fell victim to black magic. The teenagers discover that ghouls burst into flame under sunlight and keep her alive via a feeding tube that pulls blood from Shu-Wei. Why keep the ghoul? Because, as lead bully Ren-Hao (Kent Tsai) says, “Owning a monster is awesome!”
Directed by Giddens Ko, everything about Mon Mon Mon Monsters is shot through with a grimy, nasty toxicity. The sets are filled with trash and dirt, almost every character screeches and sneers, and the idea of redemption gets treated like a joke. Shu-Wei is such a whiny doormat that it’s hard to root for him, and the sympathy-case girl who’s even worse off than him barely gets any spoken lines in the movie. Ren-Hao and his equally horrible girlfriend make each other worse instead of better. Shu-Wei does struggle a bit with trying to avoid turning as fucked-up as the members of the gang that tormented him, but he largely fails. His arc from victim to lesser monster happens by going along with whatever chaos the bullies have planned.
That chaos includes draining the zombie’s blood and mixing it into their teacher’s water bottle, which winds up having gruesome results. While all this is happening, the older sister ghoul is frantically searching for her younger sibling, which plays out in scenes with a surprising amount of emotional affect. The majority of the film winds downward into a spiral of brutal dark humor, filled with carnage and gore splashed across social media feeds. By the time its mega-bleak ending rolls around, Mon Mon Mon Monsters has given the finger to the idea that victims of bullying are automatically made into better people because of their suffering. You don’t become a hero by virtue of having been beat up by life. You have to find it within yourself.