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Lake Michigan Monster
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by Jay Seaver

"A fun last act but a rough time getting there."
2 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2019 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Deliberate camp is awful most of the time, which is a fair description of "Lake Michigan Monster", a tough slog for as long as the joke is looking at it and laughing at how low-rent it feels, but kind of fun once it finds itself more in the realm of the weird. Despite it only being 78 minutes long, it seems to take forever to make that jump, and I can't say that I found it worth the investment.

It is a story told by Captain Seafield (Ryland Brickson Cole Tews), who hires a motley crew of specialists on his quest to kill the monster of the title, which he holds responsible for the death of his family. It is, in fact, motlier than most, as most seem fairly dangerously unstable. Of course, Seafield may be the kookiest of them, as he's not really a captain of anything - truth be told, he doesn't know the first thing about the sea (or, for that matter, large freshwater lakes), and quite honestly his experience is more field than sea.

When initially considering this movie, I couldn't help but think back to One Cut of the Dead, which was similarly painful for at least a third of its running time before suddenly switching gears in order to break out a last act that more than made up for the weak start, but the trick there was to really make use of absolutely everything that had been planted beforehand, retroactively making the early grind funnier. The bits that are awkwardly sprinkled into this movie's first half are obvious, and surrounded by things that aren't ever going to be more than "hey, isn't this dumb?" So it looks cheap and hammy, never really building to anything, and isn't going to be more. It's not only obvious but it slows down for stretches, trying to separate things that don't go together but not making great use of that time.

Fortunately, the filmmakers find various ways to dispense of its less necessary characters (as people making movies with "monster" in the title tend to do), and eventually just pares itself down to one man on a mission and between the no longer screwing around milking the same set of jokes on the one hand and a commitment to throwing a bunch of effects creative enough to not need every computational cycle a whole server farm can give on the other, the last stretch of the movie becomes a whole lot more fun. It's full of action, the randomness suddenly feels like its pushing in fun new directions, and Captain Seafield actually seems to give a damn about what's going on rather than just making the occasional arch-but-stupid remark.

It's still pretty dumb and campy by the end, but at least by that point it's asking is viewers to laugh at what it does well rather than what it's deliberately doing poorly, and that's a massive improvement. Creativity counts for a lot when you working on a shoestring, often much more than just letting the audience in on the joke.

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originally posted: 05/09/20 12:07:44
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Ryland Tews

Written by
  Mike Cheslik
  Ryland Tews

  Ryland Tews
  Erick West
  Beulah Peters
  Daniel Long
  Wayne Tews

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