Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2011 – Monster Brawl Review

Monster Brawl
dir. Jesse T. Cook

Toronto After Dark Film Festival Opening Gala 2011
What could’ve been a very slick throw-back to the old days of televised pay-per-view wrestling entertainment/creature feature, turned into a bit of a drag at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival. Don’t get me wrong, Monster Brawl is a great IDEA, especially in this age of this rather bland MMA-style, overly disciplined/meticulous caged fighting. Unfortunately, the film has all the style but none of the heart or substance of the industry it’s aping. What it gains in creativity it loses in execution.

The film is almost doomed from the get-go. The film begins in true WWE style, providing snippets of background for each of the fighters, but while the announcers and wrestling seems pretty tightly deveoped, these introductory vignettes don’t have the same quality about them. Witch Bitch’s back-story is especially terrible, her entire character really seems as if somebody thought it was an interesting punny name and just rolled with it. This is unfortunate and it drags down the interesting Cyclops character as well. Never mind that there are lots of classic monsters they could have included instead. Maybe a succubus or Medusa to counter the Cyclops? So many options, wasted.

Don’t get me completely wrong, the things that worked, worked well. The interactions between Dave Foley and Art Hindle are actually funnier than they have any reason to be and some of the best parts of the whole film are the ACTUALLY the wrestling matches. I felt that Lady Vampire vs The Mummy was probably the most thrilling fight of the bunch. The two seemed to really go at each other and appeared to be a balanced blow-to-blow battle, not just a gimmicky pre-determined fight. With all other match-ups it felt like the winner was obvious but this fight was a change, it felt like a real WWE-style wrestling match. In true WWE style though, middleweights are more charismatic and interesting than heavyweights, so this simply might stand true to form. Another smart bit was the introduction for Swamp Gut, done in true ‘Planet Earth’ David Attenborough-style narrative, it was almost too clever for this film!

Unfortunately for the last third, the film took a turn for the gimmicky. What they gained in continuity with vignettes, introduction speeches, stat comparisons and entrances, they lost in pacing. By the end we don’t CARE to see these introductions anymore, the film stopped feeling like a film and the charm of the homage is lost completely. I genuinely thought this was a 2 hour film and was shocked to realize it ran just under 90 minutes, that’s how long the last 20 minutes felt to me. Also, the obligatory ‘breakdown’ of events that almost always happens in a pay-per-view event wasn’t even properly addressed. When I was a kid, I always thought it was funny that in EVERY pay-per-view event, the timeline is almost always gummed up by some wrestler pulling a stunt, usually to the audiences benefit. By the time Monster Brawl finally pulls an interesting punch at the end of a really long dull bit the film just ends! Just like that!

While Monster Brawl wasn’t quite the battle I was looking for, I truly enjoyed the home-brewed special effects in the film. Lots of face smashing and prosthesis were used to make these creatures and I thought they looked spectacular. Especially Swamp Gut! Hopefully this crew will continue to add to Canadian cult cinema and we can expect something a bit tighter next time around, because this shows real potential, it just needs some work.

Toronto After Dark 2011 - Saturday October 22nd

Next up, I watch a buddy comedy about two zombies attempting to live life to the fullest in Deadheads on Saturday.

Until then… Top 5 Films to See at Toronto After Dark 2011 from myself @blogto

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