In a small, darkened bar a young man named Andrew is sulking about. A young woman named Sarah strikes up a conversation with him, and the two eventually hit it off. They decide to finish off the evening at a hotel room but that’s when things take a dark turn. Andrew handcuffs Sarah to the bed and reveals his plans to murder to her but Sarah has a confession to make of her own. It isn’t before long that the two begin to play a very dangerous game of cat and mouse.
During the viewing of Byron C. Miller’s feature film debut, “The Anatomy of Monsters”, an unexpected result was produced. I suddenly felt like I was in the early-noughties again. A time when affordable technology and equipment allowed backyard movies to feel more like legitimate attempts at independent film production. The kind of movies where you can see the honest effort being put forth by those involved in trying to make a project that can be treated as an actual movie, rather than something that was put together by friends.
And that might sound like an insult geared towards “The Anatomy of Monsters” since there’s an insinuation in those words, but it’s not. Well, it is and it isn’t. While “The Anatomy of Monsters” did send me on some strange nostalgia trip of when no-budget movies were struggling to be identified as real movies. That same nostalgia made me think of how “The Anatomy of Monsters” might have worked better had it come out 10 years sooner. It’s a movie that is unable to deliver anything above average in comparison to today’s no-to-low-budget and independent scene. However, it has the right mix of naivety and desire to where the movie could have been more noticeable back when everyone was still shooting on miniDV.
I know that sounds horribly disparaging but the noticeable effort by the cast and crew is what saves “The Anatomy of Monsters” in the end. You can see the attempt at trying to create a smart horror movie about serial killers with strong, emotionally driven characters. And even though you can see and understand what the film is trying to accomplish, the film itself never manages to reach the level that it’s aiming for. It’s the kind of movie where it has the desire but lacks that special something to give it life.
The biggest problem is that “The Anatomy of Monsters” becomes “Exposition: The Movie”. The kind of movie where every thing is explained through exhausting dialogue. If you were to look at a movie like “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer” — a movie that’s highly regarded in terms of serial killer films — the reason that one stands out so much is due to the intensity in the performance of the material. It’s not the dialogue but the performance from Michael Rooker. And while I would never compare the two (because that’s ridiculous and unfair), that kind of intensity is what’s missing from “The Anatomy of Monsters”. The reason it’s missing is due to the characters explaining what it is that they’re doing and how they’re feeling at any given moment. When you have a character that’s describing the thrill of the kill in a shot-reverse-shot with another character, there’s nothing there for an audience to latch onto or to get the adrenaline going. There needs to be more in order to punch-up the scene. You can still have that dialect but there has to be a visual presence — both in terms of cinematography and performance — to go with it.
Being dialogue heavy might not have been so bad but an issue that arises is that there’s nothing interesting that’s being said. To give credit to Miller and Morgan, they approached the concept with obvious intentions of exploring the psychology of killers and focused on that rather than the kills and dead bodies. And that’s something to appreciate but unfortunately they don’t delve deep enough into their own material. They only cover the very basics — lack of empathy, using murder to fill an emotional void, etc. — and it never goes beyond that. Another reason their approach comes up short is because we’re never given anything to understand these characters as actual people. The closest we get is Sarah trying to balance her psychotic tendencies with the desire to be with her lover. That’s a direction the movie could have gone in to make it more interesting — having a female serial killer trying to come to terms with her own psychosis. But it was something that was reduced to a subplot, and while it ties into the main narrative successfully, like everything else, it doesn’t do enough to engage with the audience.
It’s a downright shame that “The Anatomy of Monsters” comes up short because you can see the effort being put forth by the cast and crew. There’s an honest attempt at trying to create an intelligent horror movie that blends in drama with its story about two killers trying to understand one another. Even though the film comes across as average, that effort was still appreciated — I’d rather watch a movie try and fail than one that doesn’t try to do anything at all. As it stands though, “The Anatomy of Monsters” is only an average movie that’s dragged down by the lack of interesting content.