Director: Seb Cox
Writers: Seb Cox and John Black
Starring: John Black, Stefan Chanyaem, Charlotte Olivia, Jathis Sivanesan and Justin Hayward
Seb Cox’s first feature length film, Are We Monsters, premiered at FrightFest 2021. It’s a coming-of-age tale told through a werewolf story. It’s a slowburn horror that’s light on scares but heavy with emotion. This is a truly fresh and original take on an old classic and leaves an impression once it’s over.
The most striking thing about Are We Monsters is the visuals. When the werewolves first attack in the opening scene, there is a clever use of lighting to make them shadowed and hard to see. It deflects any attention to bad effects. The guns leave sparks with every shot, the contrasts with the dark backgrounds. When we get to learn the history of the werewolves (which is really original and an interesting take on the story), it’s told through an almost hand-drawn sketch style and the big monsters that appear in the later part of the film matches this style, conflicting nicely with the live-action. The effects are original and like something out of a storybook, making this one of the most stylish films in recent years.
The performances are a bit mixed but are charming in their own way. Charlotte Olivia plays Maya a teenager who’s also a werewolf. Her mother was shot and killed by werewolf hunters. She joins with Luke (Jathis Sivanesan) who is a supposed expert and blogger on the supernatural, to find a way to tame her instincts. Two hunters (John Black and Stegan Chanyaem) who have ran out of silver bullets, and don’t have a way to replenish their supply, end up joining Luke and Maya to try and train her before the next full moon.
The delivery of the dialogue is stilted in places and doesn’t feel natural. It’s only a slight problem, because the rest of the film is filled with so much charm and atmosphere that it makes up for it. Luke and Maya play off each other really well, which may be because Jathis and Charlotte went to school together, something the director didn’t realise at first.
Through a typically horror story, Cox explores the coming of age of the two teenagers. They are both starting to break out from the parents and make a life on their own. Maya has only known a life of surviving from month to month, and since her mother has been killed has to start making decisions for herself. Luke is seriously ill and his parent’s distrust of modern medicine means he needs to start looking for alternatives. There’s a relatable story underneath the werewolf story and can be seen as a metaphor for no end of issues that are relevant to most people’s lives.
The actual design of the werewolf is incredibly unique and startling. When they first appear on screen it’s a shock. They look incredibly creepy and unsettling and if this didn’t take a more mellow approach, they could be a full on nightmare. There is a really nice mix of the horror and a really grounded story in the film that means it’s never too scary, but the images are striking and memorable.
Seb Cox has created one of the most original werewolf stories in years, one that is full of emotion, style and horror. This film grabs your attention from the opening scene and doesn’t let go and will stay with you for a long time once it’s over.