Review: Monster Run (2020)
Updated: Feb 27, 2021
Let's start with saying that I'm not actually recommending this film. I'm recommending you watch a sequence from it because it had a really interesting idea that was nicely executed, and then it's up to you to decide how much time you want to waste. That may seem brutal but to me this was an exceptionally hollow film that just happened to be very pretty to look at with some nice creature designs and high production values. Otherwise the characters are boring, the acting is lifeless, the concept and story were uninspired, and the pacing was an absolute drudgery. That one scene though, fairly cool.
Basically Monster Run is kind of the same story as The School Nurse Files, but without the charm. Monsters exist, regular people can't see them, people who can see them hunt them, and so on. Ji Mo has seen monsters all her life and lies about it to be released from a psych ward. As she attempts to lead a normal life she gets pulled into a magical world as a hunter named Meng Ge destroys the market she works in to capture a monster. Blah blah blah, turns out she's the chosen one to be the guardian of the gateway which is a sort of nexus of reality dealio, hunter gotta protect girl from bad mystic lady, and more blah blah blah generic storytelling. You know the drill.
Part of the problem is that actress Jessie Li has one mode throughout the film and it is to be forlorn, even when she's kinda happy. She absolutely sucks up any emotional energy the film may have possibly been able to muster, and as her main co-star's role was to be a gruff hunter type there wasn't much of a contrast to liven up the screen with chemistry. This is all very odd though because as I'm doing a little research I see that Jessie Li (professionally known as Chun Xia) earned the Hong Kong Film Award for Best Actress. So....bad direction I guess?
To make matters worse, usually the villain has enough presence to solve this problem and give you something to hold onto for entertainment's sake. In this case it was a thoroughly uninteresting lady who wanted to maintain control of the spirit gates. She didn't even have like a gimmick or anything. Her gimmick was to call up a bad hunter, who was just sorta there to be a foil for the the good hunter Meng. Never really had a good sense of motivation for either of our villains besides 'they are bad, and therefore do bad things'. I fully believe that action/adventure movies are only as good as their villains and if you undersell this one aspect the whole project can just become a waste of time.
What an odd question to ask your antagonist.
As far as the monsters go there simply aren't enough of them to warrant calling this movie Monster Run. There's a big yeti type guy, a couple little critters here and there, and then a random labyrinth monster that teleports people to where they need to go because of scripting laziness. I think there was a fire dragon thingy at some point but it had like no meaningful screen time. They all look very nice though.
Oh, and there's a plucky mystical sidekick in the form of origami paper, who is named....Paper. It's cute and they have some clever uses for him, but his existence is explained in a throwaway line since he simply exists because someone wanted him to exist for the movie. And that's fine, or it would be, if everything else had a stronger sense of purpose.
The snippets of cleverness are what keep the movie rolling along as we trudge through unnecessarily long sequences that don't progress much, and I guess now is as good a time as any to tell you why you should check this film out. Or specifically, why you should check out the film starting at the 45 minute mark.
In this scene our protagonists get trapped inside a dimensional time loop within a parking garage where their past, present, and future selves are crisscrossing within the garage in their vans with more duplicates being added at an exponential rate. They become part of their own deathtrap (and hey I LOVE clever deathtraps) and it's a really interestingly shot sequence. I don't think I've ever seen an idea quite like it, so I did feel that it deserved some special attention.
But like that's it. I mean kudos to the design and art teams attached to the film as well, but even they never had as much of a chance to shine as they should as the film never found the right story beats to follow and expound on. Seriously, the heroine apparently can control monsters, and they kind of lazily show it once, and then when it was sort of used at the climax it completely falls flat. There are simply too many disappointments in the storytelling to save the final product.
But that one scene, man, that one scene is pretty cool.
Girl, sorry, but you bland even in your moment of triumph.