Friday, February 19, 2021

Monsters of Man (2020)

Monsters of Man Poster

Film Review:

A robotics company teams up with a corrupt CIA agent (Neal McDonough) to position themselves to win a lucrative military contract. They illegally airdrop four prototype robots into the middle of the infamous Golden Triangle to perform a live field test on unsuspecting drug lords. Unfortunately a team of humanitarian volunteers witness the murder of the village and soon become the robot’s targets.

This film was mental! And I mean that in the most positive way. Utterly relentless in its execution, these robots are the true modern Terminators. Directive says kill everyone? You better believe that is what they are going to do. It’s not that they do or don’t care about humanity – that’s putting emotion into it – they simply don’t acknowledge that as a mission parameter. What it results in is machines that will do whatever is necessary to carry out their mission, using tactics that appear on the surface to be sadistic in some cases – but remember, they are robots and don’t entertain such things as emotions.

Except for BR-4, that is. This is the robot that had the “Johnny 5 struck by lightning” moment and got a “soul”. Landing on his head and ejecting its mission parameters hard drive from the back of its skull, BR-4 is not constrained by robot rules and therefore the advanced AI developed for it learns to grow. As well as learning new combat skills in the terrain, BR-4 starts questioning why it exists and if it is indeed alive. Unlike Johnny 5 however, this learning seems to increase its awareness of the power it wields over human life. And by golly, in some scenes I think it enjoys it too much. Remember Cain in Robocop 2 when he takes out the Mayor’s associates and the whole Nuke drug gang? Including women and children? Cain is Johnny 5 compared to these robots.

BR-4 is played by Conrad K. Pratt who also did stunts in The Wolverine. It’s definitely not Asylum level CG here, you can see the underlying movement of a human actor and it makes it so much more realistic. The film was part financed on Indiegogo and you can see there the blue suits that Pratt and the other “robots” wore on set for the CG to be later mapped to. The robots appearance themselves is definitely borrowing a thing or two from the Neill Blomkamp style guide, and that’s no bad thing. Adds a solid military grit to them.

The humans in the film are split into two camps; those who built and own the robots and those who are its targets. Speaking of the latter, they are the exact type of humanitarian 20-somethings that show up in cannibal films. In a jungle they really shouldn’t be in, first they have to worry about the local armed drug gangs, and then being hunted and destroyed by military robot prototypes. Pretty cliched bunch; the wimpy guy, the cocky guy, the girl saying “can’t we all just get along” etc. Not much in the way of diverse character here, just fodder for the robots, but that is more than fine and they get dispatched in brutal and entertaining ways. As the film starts to conclude, those left alive do show their colours a bit more and we see some bravery against all odds.

As for those who built the things, they are quite the mix. The main programmer is, again, fitting the cliché of portly, caffeine-dependent hacker type, who along with his two engineering companions find out quickly that their “test deployment” was actually a live fire exercise. They are pushed around by typical grunt type (seriously, all these characters are wafer thin – my only complaint) who is on a serious power trip, but not as much as our man CIA agent Neal McDonough! Although his scenes were literally shot in one room and when tallied up would not exceed ten minutes, his dominance during those scenes adds gravitas to the picture.

This film was directed, produced and written by Mark Toia, a newcomer to IMDB across all skill types but by no means new to the camera. He is also an Australian (one for the home team!). His personal showcase is filled with short films and commercials he has made. Speaking of IMDB, I just love the short and to the point summary of the film on there. “A US weapons manufacturer tests its 4 killer robots on heroin producers in the Golden Triangle in SE Asia. It goes haywire.” Isn’t that just brilliant?

Another thing I really liked in the film was the location shots. Filmed on site in Cambodia, there is some truly beautiful scenery in the film that contrasts well with the horrors unleashed by these robots. As BR-4 goes more and more rogue, it stalks its targets across rocky terrain, inside ancient holy buildings and through vast swathes of jungle. Truly machine versus nature; the harsh black metal exoskeleton juxtaposed against a vibrant rainforest.

The film also lists Action as its first genre. I disagree here – this is firmly a horror film. If the robots were zombies it would play out the same way. The level of violence and gore in the film is above that of standard action film. I mentioned how it seemed BR-4 started to enjoy killing, and it shows. When he first has his “awakening” he seems to want to understand the human body so, uh, gets his robot hands dirty. Some of the violence is no less sadistic than a slasher film, so be warned if you are squeamish! Watch the red band trailer linked below and you’ll understand what you are in for.

I absolutely loved Monsters of Man and can’t wait to see what Mark Toia has up his sleeve next. The run time was well over two hours – which in this type of film could be its downfall – but I didn’t feel it go a second over 90 minutes. My only real complaint is the lack of a Blu-ray release – I had to get a DVD, which would be okay but they’ve really compressed the video quite a bit and it shows in the fast scenes. There are plenty of digital options up to 4k if that is your thing, however. I hope to see more of these mental robots of death in the future (watch all the credits!).

Photos from