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Jason Widgington [Film Festival 10.20.19] Canada horror thriller

Given its title, and considering two of the main characters have made their small fortune exploiting the public's desire to laugh at other people's fear only to seemingly have the tables turned on them by a supposed "fan", one could be forgiven for thinking Making Monsters would be a deep and heavy film about the price of fame. Instead, writer Justin Harding, who co-directed the film with Rob Brunner, wisely keeps it relatively light and tight in this horror film that manages to somehow feel fresh while combining many familiar tropes of the genre to make for an entertaining and creepy feature film debut for the Canadian filmmakers.

In Making Monsters, showing at the 2019 Toronto After Dark Film Festival, young couple Chris (Tim Loden) and Allison (Alana Elmer) have achieved fame with an internet video channel where Chris films himself scaring the crap out of Allison in various situations. This is established in the opening montage, which also includes an interview clip of Chris explaining the nature of fear and the cathartic appeal of watching this kind of stuff. We soon find out, though, that they want to start a family and Allison pressures a reluctant Chris into agreeing to stop the scare tactics in order to help her be in the right frame of mind to conceive. When they meet an old friend of Chris' and he invites them to visit his new house for a weekend getaway, the two gladly accept and plan for one last hurrah.

When they arrive at the old converted church - complete with a cemetery in the yard - in the countryside, they are greeted by the friend's fiance, David (Jonathan Craig, who also served as production designer and special makeup effects artist), who tells them the friend is delayed and proceeds to gush about how much of a fan he is of their channel. Much debauchery ensues and Allison begins seeing strange things and suspects Chris may be reneging on their deal, which he vehemently denies. Allison's increasingly odd behavior - apparently her extended family includes more than a couple of mediums and she may also have inherited some kind of paranormal abilities - coupled with the ominous goings-on in the house leave the audience guessing as to their nature right up until the point when we don't need to anymore.

Making Monsters features strong performances from its three leads, some very impressive visual effects, and a top-notch musical score that augments the tension and dread at just the right moments. Harding, who cut his teeth on various reality TV shows, really found his footing with multiple award-winning short films like Point Of View, Kookie, Latched, and Carved. That's telling, as his feature debut does at times feel like an amalgam of a few different ideas for short films. Is it a treatise on the lengths some will go to in order to achieve fame? Or perhaps a supernatural ghost story? Maybe it's a straight-up slasher? Or is it simply the story of a young, successful couple at a crossroads in their life together? While such a combination of themes could easily fall apart in feature film format, Making Monsters succeeds in tying everything together and keeping viewers on the edge of their seats up until the third act, which comes close to derailing the whole affair but ultimately proves satisfying for horror fans.

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