Are We Monsters first published by VODzilla.co
“I wonder what comes after this,” says Michael (Justin Hayward) in the opening scene of Are We Monsters, in what is clearly for him the beginning of something new as much as the end of an era. Michael and his family have for generations been hunting and killing werewolves, but now he holds in his hand the last two remaining silver bullets forged in the traditional (but now lost) ways. As he and his youngest son Everett (John Black) set off into the woods together, Michael wonders aloud what a “different way of doing all of this” might be for “the first generation without the power to kill like we always have.” This last hunt is also Everett’s first – and as these two armed men track their quarry in the woods and come under attack from not one but two werewolves in the darkness, there will be horrific, tragic loss on either side.
The rest of Are We Monsters shows us the perspective of the other side, as young drifter Maya (Charlotte Olivia), bereft of her mother and unsteady in her own identity, joins with sickly Luke (Jathis Sivanesan), an amateur expert in folkloric creatures who might be able to help her better understand who she is and how to keep in check her monthly urges. She also agrees to meet with Everett and his older brother Connor (Stefan Chanyaem) – her natural enemies who harbour a deeply personal grudge against her – hoping to draw on their thorough knowledge of her kind. After all, without ‘silvers’, it is not as though they can do her any harm. These uneasy camping trips in the woods play out like restorative justice sessions, as either party expresses their grievances and seeks – or appears to seek – understanding and reconciliation. Experienced hunter Connor, however, refuses to acknowledge Maya’s humanity or to regard her as anything but a monstrous ‘evil’, and he plots with his more reluctant younger brother to destroy her (or ‘it’, as he prefers to say) and perhaps Luke too (as ‘collateral damage’) when the next ‘blood moon’ rises.
“They’re not like how you would imagine,” Michael had told Everett of the werewolves. “They don’t look like a wolf at all.” He is not wrong – for one of the most striking things about We Are Monsters, evident from very early on, is the strange, mannered appearance of its creatures. Seb Cox has considerable experience helming both live-action and animated shorts, and here, in his debut feature as director (co-writing with John Black), he combines real actors and hand-drawn animation, sometimes even within a single scene. For this is a hybrid project that mixes its media as much as its bodily forms. When Everett tells werewolf origin stories (rooted in variants on ancient Greek cosmogony) around the campfire, these legends are illustrated with cartoons presented in the same hand-drawn style as Maya’s pen sketches of mythical creatures, in what is a peculiar audiovisual union of Everett’s storytelling and Maya’s imaginative reception. These myths of metamorphosis, themselves transformed before our eyes, will eventually engender a new nightmarish creature that comes in a roughly animated form at uncanny variance with the real locations around it.
Placed in a world that is all at once naturalistic and mythic, idyllic and estranged, the transformations in We Are Monsters are ultimately internalised and psychologised, as we follow Maya down a woodland path that is also a fairytale rite of passage to self-knowledge and self-acceptance. She may turn into a long-necked, appetitive beast in the full moon, but in a sense her divided, mutating character merely embodies the kind of inner conflict that also afflicts Everett, caught as he is between past loss, guilt and anger, and a yearning (like his father’s) for change. In the end, we too may be left wondering what comes after this, but the future certainly looks brighter than the past.
strap: Seb Cox’s psychologised werewolf fairytale offers mannered, mythomanic, mixed-media rites of passage
© Anton Bitel