Published Sep 24, 2015When Sebastian Ko's character and morality study, We Monsters, begins, it quickly posits a situational conundrum. While driving his daughter Sarah (Janina Fautz) — a generically sullen and self-involved 14-year-old — to camp, Paul (Mehdi Nebbou) is informed midway that they're picking up a classmate for the ride. After expressing some discomfort with the impromptu decision and the likely conspiratorial nature of it, Paul complies, staring at the friend's breasts in the rear-view mirror.
This inspires hostility in Sarah, who then picks a fight with her friend, which results in them fleeing into the woods. Only Sarah returns, telling her father that she pushed her friend off a bridge and watched her plummet to her death.
From here, the plot turns into something like I Know What You Did Last Summer. Paul and his wife Christine (Ulrike C. Tscharre) toil over what to do about the situation, wanting to protect their daughter despite struggling with the ethical component of hiding such an event. Ko effectively captures their anxiety and paranoia, balancing their own murky moral lexicon with the discomforting disposition of their seemingly sociopathic daughter Sarah, who seems surprisingly indifferent to the ordeal.
The psychological push and pull of characters confined to their own minds in such a situation suggests that We Monsters is an exercise in parental will, with a slight commentary about generational differences. Sarah is typically seen texting and Skyping, retreating from the fundamental social components of life in favour of an electronic presence. Presumably, this disposition and her casual disregard for human life are tethered to some greater observation about the lack of humanity associated with social media.
But, as things progress, a twist is revealed (quite early, actually) that complicates the themes and the situation. Tensions also escalate in the home when the friend's father starts knocking on the front door, wondering where his daughter is. These developments give the audience far more insight and power than Paul and Christine in this situation, generating a sense of knowing discomfort with their increasingly problematic decision-making and moral ambiguity. And, ultimately, this insight is what makes the eventual climactic blowout so shocking and darkly comic. We know, in that moment, just how far this situation has escalated.
While the basic build-up of tension and development of plot is quite effective, ultimately delivering a nasty misanthropic admonition about the dangers of blind trust, We Monsters isn't much outside of this. Every character — save Sarah, who is a coldly self-involved asshole — is their actions; they all react to any given situation in a way that ultimately only services the progression of the many twists. There's no real character idiosyncrasy or specificity beyond this, and Ko's direction is driven very much by the action. This isn't a film about atmosphere or form matching content.
Resultantly, even though the nastiness of it all delivers a jolt and the basic story is well constructed, this is ultimately just a filmed story and not much of a film beyond that. With a little more attention to character detail or interaction, viewers might have had a little more to invest in, which might have given a greater sense of tragedy and emotional turmoil to the cleverly conceived ending.
(Ester Reglin Film)