Monster Party is a violent ride of a home invasion horror movie that puts its own stylistic spin on the genre, but doesn't fully rise above the pack.
Home invasion horror movies are a subgenre unto themselves, with a fair number of notable entries over the last decade or so. From Michael Haneke's Funny Games and Bryan Bertino's The Strangers to Fede Alvarez's Don't Breathe and, of course, James DeMonaco's The Purge - the latter of which launched a multi-film franchise and tie-in television series - there's a home invasion horror movie for just about every horror fan. Now, Monster Party is the latest entry in the subgenre, but it effectively flips the script on the home invaders, making them the victims of the monsters within the house they were attempting to rob. Monster Party is a violent ride of a home invasion horror movie that puts its own stylistic spin on the genre, but doesn't fully rise above the pack.
Monster Party follows three teens - Iris (Virginia Gardner), Dodge (Brandon Michael Hall) and Casper (Sam Strike) - who support themselves by pulling small-time home invasion schemes. However, when Casper learns that his father owes a violent, scary man thousands of dollars in gambling debt, he convinces his friends to target a much larger score, one that comes with unforeseen complications. Iris and Dodge, who are expecting a child together and want to establish a life for themselves, agree to Casper's plan of robbing the family for which Iris works as a server. Unfortunately for the teenage thieves, the Dawsons - Patrick (Julian McMahon), Roxanne (Robin Tunney), Elliot (Kian Lawley) and Alexis (Erin Moriarty) - aren't the nice family they appear to be.
The Dawsons act strangely from the moment Iris, Dodge and Casper show up at their house, but the night takes an even more bizarre turn when the family's dinner guests show up. Obnoxious Cameron (Chester Rushing) and Jeremy (Jamie Ward), tattooed and guitar-toting Ollie (Diego Boneta), and imposing Milo (Lance Reddick) with Beca (Sofía Castro) make for an odd assortment of guests. While the Dawsons and their guests are focused on their celebrations, the teenage thieves search for a safe worthy of being robbed and eventually make a play for it - but the security proves to be too formidable for Dodge and Casper and they inevitably trip the house's alarm system. With the teens, the family and the guests all trapped inside, the Dawsons reveal their true monstrous nature and it quickly becomes clear that Casper and his friends must become monsters themselves to escape with their lives.
Written and directed by Chris von Hoffmann (Drifter), Monster Party inverts the typical premise of a home invasion horror movie - wherein the residents are being hunted by outside, would-be invaders - for a new and compelling take on the subgenre. For the most part, the inversion works to put enough of a semi-new spin on the subgenre, though even this inversion of the typical premise is something that's been done before (as in 2016's Don't Breathe). The build-up to the reveal of the Dawsons and their guests' true monstrous ways works to effectively heighten the tension for when the script is flipped on the teenage thieves and they become the prey of much more experienced predators. Though the way Monster Party subverts horror tropes may not be completely fresh, the film does bring new ideas and a new point of view to the genre.
What additionally helps to set Monster Party apart from fellow entries in the home invasion subgenre of horror movies is Hoffmann's stylistic directing. The quick cuts during some of the more grisly moments of Monster Party, paired with lingering shots of the Dawsons and their home awash in opulence and excess, works to juxtapose the characters' wealth with their violent natures. Monster Party is by no means subtle, but the pulpy nature of its presentation works in its favor. Certainly, the movie - and Hoffmann - has something to say about wealth and how it preys on the lower classes, and the movie's tendency to hits its viewers over the head with its message is no better evidenced than in McMahon's Patrick stating he's "ready to make the Dawsons great again." But that message is presented by way of a violent, fun, and delightfully bloody kill fest that offers an entertaining ride in its own right. And, with an ending that feels victorious - until the viewer truly sits with it and what it means for those left alive - Monster Party manages to stick a slightly more subtle landing in its final act.
The cast of Monster Party also helps to elevate the film, with McMahon and Tunney doing much of the heavy lifting in terms of building the tension in the movie until the killing begins. Both veteran actors offer compelling performances, with McMahon's Patrick leaning more toward the manic killer and Tunney playing a more grounded side to their partnership. Still, it's clear from their performances that McMahon and Tunney had fun with the material and that translates to the screen, bringing more entertainment to Monster Party. The rest of the cast is rounded out strongly, with Lawley playing a disturbingly good psychopath in Elliot and Reddick bringing gravitas to the production as Milo. Strike leads the trio of teenages thieves well, presenting Casper's evolution throughout the film compellingly, though he's somewhat overshadowed by the charm of Hall. Still, the cast of Monster Party works well together to bring this story to life - even if the story and killing take precedence over actual character arcs.
Altogether, Monster Party is a middling entry in the home invasion subgenre of horror, putting enough of a fresh spin on the usual tropes and premise to be memorable, but never quite reaching the heights of what the genre has to offer. It's solid enough to keep viewers already interested in horror invested in the events of Monster Party - and offers plenty of gruesome kills in stylistic ways to entertain even seasoned horror fans. But it's by no means a must-see horror movie, especially for those less likely to enjoy violence and gore (though it's not quite the worst the genre has to offer). Still, for those looking for an entertaining horror ride, Monster Party certainly delivers the thrills and kills to keep viewers hooked throughout the film's brisk hour and a half runtime.
Monster Party is now playing in select U.S. theaters. It runs 89 minutes and is not rated, but is intended for mature audiences.
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