Monsters Never Die
Jun 4, 2023
Craige Middleburg, Junior Alofabi Salokun, Omar Woodburn, Shone Romulus
Change is a difficult yet always necessary part of life. Of course, we are constantly changing subconsciously and we have no qualms about that, not normally until it is too late at least. It is the big changes, however, whether that be moving to the other side of the world or deciding to start a family that we, naturally as humans, tend to struggle with. Even more difficult is a change of character, especially when expected to adapt quickly. That’s the kind of change examined in ‘Monsters Never Die’, a strong film by A.R. Ugas.
The film opens serenely, with a man (played by Craige Middleburg reaching out into the cloudy evening sky, taking in the air of Birmingham from the top floor of a parking lot. It speaks a lot about the man’s character - that he is searching for peace, desperately, though the cramped urban setting which he resides in only offers further trouble and no chance of escape. It’s a point revisited later in the film, having learnt more about the character, and in a sense the film follows a cyclical structure, as this man tries to find solace, reconciling his past, present and future.
His past is troubling, having spent time in prison for crimes left only to our imagination. What happened whilst he was locked up is uncertain, but whatever happened it wasn’t good. Something bad involving a Lewis McCarthy, also out of jail but following a very different path to Middleburg’s character. McCarthy is ostensibly a reformed man, attracting the attention of the BBC, the Guardian and, bizarrely, Jeremy Corbyn, for his activism working towards eradicating gang violence and encouraging the reform of others. He’s become something of a superstar, and it is his appearance, preaching his words of reform and religion that cause a spiral for the man.
Aided by Middleburg’s inspired performance, this is where the film is at its best. Showing how one man has changed his ways whilst the other is paralysed. Middleburg’s protagonist becomes overwrought with anxiety after first hearing McCarthy’s voice on someone else’s Instagram, losing his nerve before a job, and doing cocaine. Stuck in the life that put him in prison in the first place, Ugas’ script capture the sense of entrapment that he feels, wanting to evolve from the past but instead forced to be reminded of the hardships that he’s experienced. Confronting McCarthy will likely achieve nothing, but its the only road that will lead to change, for better or worse, and the route which, as Ugas conveys adeptly, must be taken.
Ugas’ direction is similarly of a high quality, particularly in the more soft moments of solitude and calm reflection. The film dips a little bit in the middle, becoming a little too lost in a scene in which McCarthy appears on a podcast, which feels too dragged out, a little unrealistic, and altogether largely unnecessary. Otherwise, however, it is a sterling job all round from Ugas’ writing and directing, with strong performances from all actors, in particular Craige Middleburg, who is charismatic in the leading role.
‘Monsters Never Die’ is a film by A.R. Ugas of remarkable quality. If at times a little rough around the edges, it nonetheless effectively explores the dichotomy of two men’s fortunes, and their ability, or inability, to change.