Jenn is a nine-year-old girl who lives in an underground bunker with her family, protected from the monsters roaming the world above.
She has never been outside — her entire life has been spent underground with mom Marie, dad Henry and her brother Isaac, who all regularly go up to the surface to get food and resources to keep them alive.
Jenn wants to go with them, and she even practices with her wooden sword to prepare. But one day, tired of being told she’s too young to go up, she sneaks out and discovers something even more terrifying than she could ever imagine.
Writer-director Steve Desmond — along with co-writer Michael Sherman — has conceived a fresh, inventive horror short that uses every element in the cinematic toolbox to create a compelling, effective storytelling experience about growing up, taking risks and being curious about the larger world beyond your childhood.
With its tautly paced storytelling and editing, its ability to parse out just enough details to create a whole world, its terrific set of performances — including “Say Anything” actress Ione Skye as the mother — and its excellent score and sound design, this short feels much bigger in scale than its short runtime.
The dynamimc camerawork is able to evoke a world outside the bunker that is much larger than its dark confines, and each propulsive story beat is created with immense skill and craftsmanship, powered by young Jenn’s desire to go outside. As she makes it outside, the camera movement and other elements also increase in scale, ratcheting up the tension and questions that drive Jenn along.
Jenn’s character is deftly drawn, and her drive to go outside is understandable. She may be young, but her character is active and resourceful, brought to life in a capable, excellent performance by young actor Caitlin Carmichael, who delineates every emotional beat of Jenn with precision and specificity. But the time she makes it outside, she discovers something much different than the story about monsters she has grown up with.
Like many horror films, there’s a terrific twist at the film’s conclusion that recasts the narrative we thought we knew, inviting compulsive rewatching. And like other films in its genre, “Monsters” is also a powerful parable about the sometimes difficult moment of shedding childhood beliefs when confronted with the truths of the larger world beyond childhood.
This being a thrilling horror movie, these realizations comes with a dose of harsh reality, emotional agony and the shattering of childhood innocence — not to mention a sickening realization that the bigger world of adulthood we longed for so much is actually an illusion and a trap.