More often than not, there are two categories a documentary could fall into in a semi-neat fashion. One is the subject matter variety, the other is the storyline kind. Now of course these two classifications blend together a lot and there are probably other ways to look at it but it boils down to either a focus on a clear, single subject or a narrative storyline with a clear beginning, middle and end.
Monsters Wanted falls into the latter category and documents the story of two enterprising types (Rich and Janel) who set about the task of creating a scream part outside of Louisville, Kentucky. The choice to make the documentary a narrative one was very smart as we ride side-car with the two main subjects and a host of others in the process of trying to making the dream a reality. The drama is just as much about getting it done as it is about how the people in question deal with each other.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the primary difference between this film and Magic Stone Productions’ The American Scream, out last year. The American Scream focused much of its energy on the intimacy of family in regard to ‘home hauntings’ and all that that entails. Monsters Wanted does draw from the interpersonal, but, the end-game is a professional-level haunt with the goal of being a prosperous business. So while you might’ve seen American Scream (and loved it, as I did) last year, rest assured that Monsters Wanted is absolutely its own idea and focus and certainly isn’t going to bore you telling the same story.
Brian Cunningham and Joe Laughrey (director/writer/producers) do a brilliant thing in the execution of this documentary that is commendable. They get the hell out-of-the-way of the story and let the story itself be the star. This cannot be emphasized enough. One of the most grating things a documentary filmmaker can do is make the story as much (or more) about them and their creative process than about the subject matter itself. There have been a few examples in the last year of documentaries that just can’t leave well enough alone and just be the vehicle for the story. Thankfully, Monsters Wanted focuses on the people and the story and does not have this problem. However, there are a few moments where that fourth wall (so to speak) is broken and we’re reminded there are people behind the camera asking questions and working through it all same as the subjects are. But again, Cunningham and Laughrey seem to have a firm grasp on the concept that the documentary isn’t about them and their role in it (as an on-screen presence) is minimal and well handled.
As one would probably expect, the scream park Janel and Rich have in mind and the means they have to do it with don’t really jive. This is pretty evident very early on and it is not a matter of if they’ll run into trouble money-wise and/or people wise, it is a matter of when. You get this feeling in the pit of your stomach when you see them goofing around when you think they should be focusing, or irritation building when you (as the viewer) could see a better solution to a problem they are dealing with in construction or management or whatever but they just don’t seem to see it. This is a non-stop train and the audience member just kind of has to divorce themselves from that angst and let the subjects work through it…regardless of whether or not you want to strangle them at times.
This really illustrates why this documentary is so well executed and why it was so enjoyable to watch. These people are certainly not perfect and certainly not as organized as they should be but their efforts are poured into something valuable. Now before you jump all over me and say that “it’s just a stupid haunted house, how is that valuable??” let me say that what I’m calling valuable is not to be compared to the bulk of what you might be thinking. They aren’t building homes for the homeless, they aren’t helping to install water filters in war-torn countries but what they are doing is valuable. They are actualizing their dream of self-management, of small business success and of a passion for what they do and those things are immeasurably valuable. What would life be if it were not for the passionate in all areas of culture and all else? Passionate, dedicated (and a little crazy) people are drawn to what they are drawn to, love what they love and the true success of Monsters Wanted is showing that in a true and sincere way. Chainsaw injuries and all.