Monsterland is the new horror anthology that arrived on Hulu, based on the book, North American Lake Monsters: Stories by Nathan Ballingrud.
The book is a series of short stories based on monsters in mythology. However, what makes this book, and the TV anthology series, different is that the real monsters are not the creatures the characters encounter, but the people themselves.
Monsterland is not for the faint of heart.
Monsterland is a tough anthology series to get through.
The stories are brilliant, and the acting is top-notch. Everything about this series is well done and perfectly realized.
However, there is no way a person can binge the eight episodes of this series and come away with anything but existential dread, a deep sense of desperation, and a pure fear for what people out in the world are going through right now.
Everyone in this series, in every episode, has decisions to make, and those are almost always the wrong ones, leaving them broken, shattered, and lying in pieces.
Each episode is titled after the city where the story takes place. The stories all stand on their own. There are moments where a character from one episode passes through another, showing this is all one cinematic world.
The first episode, “Port Fourchon, LA,” is a perfect example of how these stories show people at their lowest, where it seems there is no way out, and then it just makes things worse until they break. There is no redemption to be had.
This episode is about a young single mother who works at a diner and has to deal with the fact that her toddler daughter has serious emotional issues, prone to outbursts of anger and violence. The father is not around (he even thought he had a son), and the woman who babysits her child refuses to anymore because the girl is dangerous. As the mom says, her little girl knows no one wants her.
That is when a shapeshifter enters her life. At first, we fear that he is coming to kill this little family, as we already saw him kill once at the start of the episode. However, we don’t know the entire story behind this shapeshifter.
By the end, the choices the mother makes are more horrifying than anything we saw the shapeshifter do in the episode.
“Eugene, Oregon” is about a teen who drops out of school to help his ill mother, only to believe a “shadow” in his home is haunting him. He ends up getting help from an online forum of conspiracy theorists as he attempts to find someone to blame for the current state of his life.
The rest of the series bounces between an ailing fisherman finding a mermaid in Texas to an episode with Star Wars: The Last Jedi actress Kelly Marie Tran learning that the urban legends in a nearby forest are true. In both cases, it isn’t the mermaids or urban legends that are dangerous. It is the poor decisions these people make, as they are the real monsters.
The best episode in the series is Newark, NJ, which stars Mike Colter (Luke Cage) and Adepero Oduye (When They See Us) as parents who lost their daughter the year before. Their lives are falling apart in despair until they find a fallen angel alone and shivering in a dumpster and bring her home.
It was then that the angel was able to help them finally mend their broken hearts. It was a perfect conclusion to the series, as it was the only episode that brought some manner of hope to the lives of a season full of broken people.
Monsterland is a horror anthology, but it is not one that will make you jump or look in your closet before you go to sleep at night.
This is not a series about monsters in the typical sense. Monsterland is about the monsters in the hearts of humanity; how people will go to the darkest of places to solve their problems.
This horror anthology will leave the viewer feeling defeated and hopeless. It is one that brings the scares by showing the darkness that lives in small towns across America.
However, that is one of the things that makes horror so effective. What is scarier, a vampire you know doesn’t exist or a mother who dreams of drowning their child to make her own life easier?
Horror disturbs, and Monsterland does that in spades. This series is not for anyone to binge-watch, and it is hard to recommend this to anyone without spelling out trigger warnings.
If you suffer from anxiety, paranoia, fear, and a lack of self-worth, avoid this series. However, if you like to watch horror tales that delve deep into the depravity of the human soul, only to find blackness, this is a horror series that delivers what it promises.