“So where do you get your ideas from?” It’s the banal question asked of almost all writers during their careers, a question which is either completely unanswerable or best responded to with a sarcastic “There’s this little place around the corner from Boots” or “I buy them off eBay.” It’s unlikely, however, that many writers have ever fessed up to feeding human sacrifices to a slavering monster hidden in the spare bedroom in return for story notes and ideas spat out on crunched-up bits of paper. Well, maybe apart from Dan Brown…
This is the conceit powering F.C. Rabbath’s quirky and highly watchable feature A Brilliant Monster, a psychological horror/thriller which examines the nature of creativity and the obsessions which drive the creative mind. Dennis Friebe oozes oily persuasive charm as Mitch Stockbridge, successful writer of self-help texts who is on the verge of making his big breakthrough. Everyone’s on his back, from his demanding literary agent, his cantankerous, virtually bedridden father who refuses to acknowledge his son’s success, and his girlfriend Sophie who he can’t help cheating on with random hookers and cheap bar pick-ups. At book signings his fans ask him the dread question, little realising the ghastly truth. Surely the Police won’t be tempted to take seriously the claim from one of Mitch’s ex-girlfriends that he throws unsuspecting victims into the maw of a ravenous monster lurking in an upstairs bedroom?
Despite its low budget, A Brilliant Monster is a bold and surprisingly slick production. Friebe commands the screen as the plausibly-smarmy Mitch, publicly cocky and arrogant and yet demeaned by his father and tormented by doubts about his own creative powers. But success drives him on to committing more and more atrocities and as the death toll mounts, suspicious eyes turn his way and the net starts to close around him. If you’re looking for a good old-fashioned monster movie then, despite its title, A Brilliant Monster will inevitably disappoint. Yes, there’s a monster but it’s not especially brilliant; we usually see point-of-view shots from inside its mouth, teeth snapping as it drools in anticipation of its next victim. We are treated to one very quick full-on view of the monster which resembles the clawed balloon-thing from John Carpenter’s Dark Star but then the monster itself isn’t really the point here, which is surely why we learn nothing about it or how it comes to be in Mitch’s spare room. The real monster, perhaps, is Mitch himself, consumed by his own craving for success and willing to do almost anything, and to sacrifice almost anyone – including his best friend – in pursuit of his dreams of fame, fortune and acclaim. Then again maybe it’s creativity itself, the very ideas and the rush they bring, which are the monster? A Brilliant Monster is ambivalent and that’s its real strength. Mitch is a terrible man, a user who does terrible things and yet maybe somewhere deep down we sympathise with and possibly even admire him.
A Brilliant Monster is a cut above many creaky low-budget under-the-radar indies. It’s confident and genuinely cinematic despite its apparent lack of visual ambition and it’s shot through with jet black humour as it poses a few intriguing questions about exactly what powers the minds of those tormented by the gift of creativity.
A BRILLIANT MONSTER / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR: F.C. RABBATH / SCREENPLAY: ADAM BERTOCCI, F.C. RABBATH / STARRING: DENNIS FRIEBE, JOY KIGIN, BILL KELLY, ALEX FIGUEROA / RELEASE DATE: FEBRUARY 1ST, 2018 (USA), TBC (UK)