Written by: Josh Hancock
Director: Byron C. Miller
Cast: Tabitha Bastien, Jesse Lee Keeter, Conner Marx
The Anatomy of Monsters opens with eerie, static shots of a young man named Andrew as he sits alone, drink in hand, in his cramped apartment. His countenance is grave; his body language, rigid and cold. Audiences quickly become aware that his night out on the town can only have sinister motives. Unlike most men his age, Andrew isn’t looking for a woman to date or have casual sex. Instead, he’s looking for his next female victim. He believes he’s found her when the lovely Sarah approaches him in a dimly-lit bar, her smile bright, her conversation light and easy, and her affections clear. But when Sarah invites Andrew back to her motel room, what unravels is a dialogue-heavy character study of two people—one a soulless sociopath, the other a conflicted killer. By the end of that ill-fated evening, their shattered pasts and dark secrets will slowly and horrifically emerge in this above-average psychological thriller from director Byron C. Miller (Night, 2006).
Miller’s film alternates between two stories: the present-day conflict between Andrew and Sarah in the seedy motel room, and Sarah’s painful past, including her troubled childhood and later relationship with boyfriend Nick. The romance between Sarah and Nick, which unfolds in natural and playful ways, is one of the strengths of The Anatomy of Monsters and serves to underscore the tragic dual nature of Sarah’s existence. Tabitha Bastien plays Sarah with a delicate balance, transitioning frequently between sweetness, anger, and homicidal rage. Conner Marx is expertly cast as Nick, a kindhearted and quirky suitor with a talent for making first dates fun and memorable. Marx’s charming performance sets the perfect stage for what may be a fatal relationship with the beautiful but corrupt woman he loves. Meanwhile, the changes in Andrew’s character serve only to highlight his cowardice, but Jesse Lee Keeter tackles the limited role with an energetic and coldhearted menace, especially in some of the film’s final scenes.
For its low-budget scale, The Anatomy of Monsters spins a gruesome tale; while many of the kill sequences happen off-screen, there’s still plenty of blood to go around (the weapons of choice are varied too, from serrated knives to glass shards and a garrote). One of the more memorable scenes occurs during a flashback to Halloween night, when a young Andrew commits a ghastly murder that would make Michael Myers nod in appreciation (even the music in this scene echoes John Carpenter’s classic soundtrack). Throughout the narrative, the crude special effects work in tandem with the stark and scruffy appeal of Byron Miller’s film. While Paul Morgan’s screenplay could use some polish, the actors handle most of the dialogue well—especially in the early scenes between Sarah and Nick. Uneven audio and a dull color palette remind viewers that they are in low-budget territory, but again these limitations fit well with the grim story that Miller wants to tell.
No doubt, there are other films that handle these serial-killer themes in a much stronger and original fashion (Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer comes to mind, as does the Dexter television series), but The Anatomy of Monsters is still worth a watch. While the film is never particularly scary or disturbing, it does offer memorable characters who struggle to embrace their inner demons rather than reject them outright. The performances are solid and clearly the director understands how to craft effective and haunting set-pieces. If armed with a sharper script the next time around, Byron Miller would be set to take the horror world by storm.
The Anatomy of Monsters was released by Artsploitation Films on November 15, 2016 on DVD and VOD/streaming.