Updated: May 16
Directed by #AnthonyMandler
"What do you see when you look at me?"
Beautiful and brutal in equal measures, Monster tells a story of pain and heartache as seventeen-year-old Steve Harmon (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) is accused of murder. Despite allegedly ‘looking the part’, Steve is adamant that he has no involvement. What starts as a thought provoking introspective into an all-to-familiar racially charged narrative, instead becomes something creative and even hopeful, as Steve calls into question not only his own identity, but also that of humanity itself.
Based on the 1999 book of the same name by Walter Dean Myers, Monster originally premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2018 before being released on Netflix on Friday, 7th May 2021. As an aspiring filmmaker on the precipice of adulthood, Steve seeks to ‘find his story’ before applying to film school and starts hanging around local guy James (Rakim “A$AP Rocky” Mayers) for inspiration around his community. The two young men have interesting chemistry, with an intense dynamic from their first encounter, and both Harrison and Mayers do well to make this as emotive as possible.
Kelvin Harrison Jr. does a fantastic job of playing a wrongfully accused teen and carries the beauty of the film that one-step further to make it immensely thought provoking for the viewer. Steve is just trying to be an average teenager, whilst seeking to record the extraordinary aspects of life through the camera. Knowing that he is alive becomes terrifying, as it means that he is forced to confront a horrible reality. Beautiful camera work and acting swirl together to create Steve’s memories, which creates an all-consuming immersion into his life. We see Steve’s perspective throughout, with the motif of filmmaking encouraging him to find passion in life and consider alternative points of view.
The camera is all telling, as close-up shots on faces, objects and clothing reveal powerful and intricate details of identity. A variety of different filming forms act on a constant rotation, with shaky following camera shows that rotate around characters as they feel out of control, to the long takes that provide the opportunity for the viewer to scrutinise every facial expression or thought process that a character has. Grainy CCTV footage acts as evidence too, giving another layer to the evidence that the viewer must unpack. Scenes shot from Steve’s camera are artsy and black and white and layered with his own interpretation on his surroundings. Scene changes are jarring at times, with loud noises perforating the cut. No character is what they seem and there is a vulnerability to this filming as we are forced to question Steve’s intentions.
Steve constantly ‘feels like he is in a movie' as the structure of the film seeks to build itself around him. Dialogue is spoken the way that a script is written, vocalising every interior and exterior direction, providing a clever self-aware narrative. The introspective script continues in the way scenes and individual shots are layered over each other, often frantic. Court scenes in particular are fast-paced and quickly edited together like snapshots of a camera. They are monochrome, with characters wearing lots of black and white clothing, flooded by an all-grey backdrop of the courtroom. The script has knowledge of these moments and colour difference is sharpened, forcing further vulnerability onto Steve.
The viewer is left to their own interpretation of the evidence that they have been given. They must behave like the jury and consider their own opinions and biases to confirm what they think actually happened. This heart-breaking, yet intelligent, ambiguity reminds us that it is not about guilt of innocence in Steve’s story - rather that it is about judgement.
A unique concept, cleverly filmed and a surprising story arc. Monster is a must-watch.
Monster is now streaming on Netflix UK. Watch the trailer here: