The aspect of reluctant heroes is always painted on the path of a journey but also the reasoning behind it. Mixing elements of traditional and genre is always tricky especially doing within a period element. But with Asian cinema, pre-pandemic, understanding more the intersection of global tastes, “Monstrum” takes that into effect. But the reality is that South Korea has been ahead of the curve in this way for years, especially in horror and certain action offshoots including gangster. “Monstrum” also does its best in certain aspects to interrelate comedy. The story begins with two former generals and a young daughter trying to survive on the edge of barren fields. They enjoy their life for its simplicity but the daughter wants something more. One finds that they used to serve the king but was taken away when the father saves a girl (the daughter) instead of slaughtering her. The idea provides stakes but also a moral basis within the story. Running in the background of much of it is a political struggle. While not inherently dense or particular about what is being fought over, the aspect of grief is interrelated between both an ongoing plague (very pertinent right now) and stories of a monster rampaging.
The effective aspect of the story is trying and, in many times showing, that it could be one or the other. Eventually the general and his brother are brought back in at the request of the King (who has been manipulated by his prime minter and his minions) to find out the real truth. What is interesting even though it is set in 1506, is to bring in the daughter as a sort of investigator, even within the gender confines at the time while also giving her some progression of a traditional love story to satisfy perhaps more conservative audiences. The eventual discovery of a creature (which this reviewer won’t give away too much about) has interesting interrelations to many genre films including “The Dark Crystal”. The mythology of the beast is a little slight but in terms of simple entertainment works adequately. The comedy which is subtle (more in the form of the brother) gives the film a light touch which definitely makes it overall much more palpable especially when the action gets a little more performance oriented and less story based as the melee of sorts begins though its epilogue definitely understands this. “Monstrum” is an effective hybrid while understanding it nature and budgets ad uses it its avail.
After “Valerian”, director Luc Besson has been balancing the different essences of life with his company in financial trouble for a short time. Personally he was being attacked because of supposed conduct. And a film that was supposed to be his big return to large film making simply tanked. In personification, “Valerian” wasn’t bad. It was perfectly on par with “The Fifth Element” but made in a different time. “Lucy” right before had shown with the right actress despite a slightly incomplete script that the visceral nature of the director was still there. The biggest issue, not to get too industry about the failure of “Valerian”, is that in the US, STX Films pretty much released it cold with no anticipation. And it failed. With his new film “Anna”, the trailer was phenomenal building up the aspect of a new action girl in Sascha Luss. Besson, despite anything, has the ability to create wonderfully strong female characters while still engaging in the beauty and the world of modeling he seems to love so much. The trailer simply teased one major scene which in retrospect is interestingly enough a lipnus test. “Anna” approaches what “Red Sparrow”tried to do but with a blank canvas and not Jennifer Lawrence. Within this construct, you have no preconceived notions of who Anna is because that is not her name. This is why you can buy more into the idea of it. Now while much of the movie tries to play to certain spy quotients, it is the nature of freedom that rings true even as the film is set right after the fall of the Soviet Union per se. The KGB essence here is interestingly done both in its recruiting but also the showing of Russia right after that fall. It doesn’t go easy on American intelligence either. It almost makes the point that you are under the thumb of power no matter where you are.
Sascha Luss balances this nicely as “Anna” but it helps that she has a couple actors working against her, who despite that their characters are a bit thin and sometimes more of sexual playthings to Anna than actual connections is interesting. It works because it is a reversal of what was the norm 20 years ago. Cillian Murphy plays one of his more mainstream roles and shows a level of charm and cool we haven’t seen on screen from him in awhile. Luke Evans, right off “The Alienist”, creates the right amount of patriotism while understanding this girl he recruited. Anna’s girlfriend in the modeling world creates the right amount of offset in social representation to show that identity is simply a construct depending what you want in life. It is not a criticism on anything at times with either sex except a certain degree of survival and understanding. Helen Mirren has the most interesting role in that of KGB overseer. This is the most hidden she has been with a sense of cunning, humor and drama that sometimes Besson can get out of his actors. “Red” for Mirren was play. Here she is doing some magnified work. Besson still has it. The action sequences are visceral. He can do it with a smaller amount of money but he likes the toys of big film production. The film is fun to watch, plotted decently, stylized cool (watch out for an INXS song montage) and, while not Besson’s best, far from his worse and continually shows his focus for talent. Initially this reviewer thought this might be a retooling or telling of “Matilda”, the child Natalie Portman played in Besson’s “The Professional” as a grown up assassin. A key plot turn in the movie has Sascha wearing a black bob that has harkings back to that character. Alas “Anna” will probably be lost since, for likely reasons, Summit/Lionsgate released it cold. A movie is a movie, even when it is not….that doesn’t make this one any less entertaining.