Hulu’s Monsterland horror anthology series takes a creepy tour of the soul
Vampires, aliens, and witches are nightmares, but Hulu’s new Monsterland series portrays these dreaded creatures as the enablers and victims of selfish, conflicted people.
This gripping eight-part series, which hits the streaming service on October 2nd, explores the blurred lines between monsters and humans. In fact, the real threat in many of these creepy stories isn’t really the monsters themselves, but the people they encounter.
The stand-alone anthology series is based on Nathan Ballingrud’s short story collection North American Lake Monsters from 2013 and adapted for television by Mary Laws (The Neon Demon).
Each episode tells its own story, named after the location where it is set. However, some characters have cameos in other episodes to show that they are all on the same timeline. While each episode features an unusual creature from a myth or urban legend, it is the underlying themes of family, betrayal, love, envy, greed, and guilt that drive the horror home.
In the first episode, Port Fourchon, Louisiana, actor Kaitlyn Dever (Booksmart) skillfully plays a waitress and single mother who has to take care of her annoyingly angry daughter. Diver’s performance as a young parent, feeling trapped in her dead end and overwhelmed by adult responsibilities, makes her character’s story all too real.
The waitress and mother eventually intersect with a mysterious man. You might be concerned about this man’s intentions, but it is the mother who is faced with a decision that would shock most parents. This first episode suggests the idea that bad choices can have disastrous results. Every decision we make can turn us into monsters.
The bad mothers theme continues with an episode called New Orleans, Louisiana. A celebrity played by Nicole Beharie (Sleepy Hollow) places so much emphasis on being the perfect woman and mother that she neglects her young son when he needs her most.
Monsterland also deals with the issue of guilt. As a result, New York, New York, a wealthy but unhealthy CEO of an oil company suffers from looking the other way during an environmental disaster and must fight his own ugly inner demon as punishment.
It’s hard to feel empathy towards a greedy millionaire who only cares for his own needs, but another episode called Newark, New Jersey shows a couple consumed with guilt over the loss of their only child. The suspenseful story focuses mainly on the tormented father, who is played by Mike Colter ().
While the hugely entertaining Monsterland is definitely worth a watch, the hour-long episodes feel too short for viewers to really get to know or care about the characters. I wanted to understand why these people kept making bad choices and why they refused to receive salvation.
The stories in Monsterland are often more like moral stories disguised as penny dreadfuls than overt horror stories. The monsters here aren’t particularly scary overall, though they can be a bit annoying in their appearance.
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The mermaid in the episode of Palacios, Texas looks more like a cunning predator than a singing princess feathered by Disney. And the zombie in Plainfield, Illinois, sure is gross, but not exactly nightmares.
The story that bugged me the most was the episode called Iron River, Michigan. The following is the story of an unpopular teenage girl played by( ) who will do anything to live someone else’s life, even if it’s the life of her missing best friend. While this episode has a real monster lurking in the woods, the story isn’t really about why or how her friend disappears.
The real horror in this parable shows what happens when envy eats our future. As an outsider teenager who grew up myself, I can probably relate to this character more than I’d like to admit. It is especially excruciating to feel like nobody while living in the shadow of a charismatic friend who seems to have it all.
This episode is especially good for proving that choosing between being right or living on a lie isn’t always as easy as one might think.
Monsterland isn’t the kind of series with the typical werewolves, aliens, boogeymen, demons and other creatures of the night that horror fans expect. But the series is worth watching as a reminder that the evil creature we should fear most is the darkness within ourselves.