Saturday 7 February 2015

Sad Monster (2013)

Director: Kurt Dettbarn
Stars: Maja Dettbarn, Matt Washington and Kurt Dettbarn
This film was an official selection at the 10th annual International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival in Phoenix in 2014. Here's an index to my reviews of 2014 films.
I was disappointed by DOUG.DAT, increasingly as I think about what the concept could have become, and I was disappointed by Sad Monster too. It got a good response from the crowd at the International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival though, so it certainly has something. What I thought it had was a strong visual style drawn out of the inherently sentimental material. I didn't like the shakycam but I loved the long shots and the framing and the gradual bringing into focus of little things as the camera moves. It's surprising that it has won many awards for producer/director Kurt Dettbarn, but apparently nothing for Joshua Rainhard as the cinematographer. To my thinking, it's Rainhard who sells this most, with the monster suit made by Melis Bayraktar, Trason Fernandes and Jen Wright backing him up magnificently and Dettbarn's suitably melancholy music underpinning it all. There is no dialogue in this movie, which could easily be regarded as a music video, but then it really doesn't need it.
The story is elegantly simple. The Sad Monster of the title is some sort of cuddly plush troll, but he's sad rather than scary, right down to the single fang that decorates his bottom lip. Why he's seven feet tall, I have no idea, given that he's clearly supposed to belong to the little girl who banishes him at the outset, but he is and that means that he can leave and wander off into the world at large, searching for another place where he can belong. You could read this like a dialogue free summary of Toy Story in music video form and without a single moment of CGI, but that would suggest depth and this deliberately avoids that. It merely highlights how a single act can change everything, one command turning a world upside down, especially when it's delivered by a child, here Dettbarn's daughter Maja. It works well, but that simplicity is a double edged sword. It delivers the sentimentality that Dettbarn clearly aimed for, but leaves us no way to really connect with our sympathy and we sit back as the credits roll and wait for the next film.

Sad Monster can be watched for free on Vimeo.

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