DVD Review: Monika (2012, dir. Steven R. Monroe)

Monika-Hi-Res-DVD-Flat-FrontThe premise for MoniKa, the direct-to-DVD thriller cooked up by the man behind other cinematic classics like Mongolian Death Worm and the 2010 remake of I Spit On Your Grave, sounds like the musings of some stoned teenagers.

“What if a guy goes to Vegas, has a wild night of sex with a hot chick, only to find out that she’s been dead the whole time???!?!” (bong rip) “And she’s, like, living between worlds, trying to get revenge on the drug dealers that killed her and are holding her younger sister?” (bong rip) “Oh, and her dad was, like, a special ops guy in Vietnam and taught her all these badass skills like marksmanship and hand-to-hand combat?” (bong rip) “We should be writing this down…”

It’s almost refreshing in a way to know that shlock like this can still get made in this day and age, let alone attract a C-list talent like C. Thomas Howell and Eliza Donovan to take part in it. And there’s still something ineffably cool about a film whose toughest customer on screen is a female, tarted up and buxom though she is. Yet so much else about MoniKa exhibits the kind of eye-rollingly bad decisions that a filmmaker like Monroe should have gotten out of his system.

Why saddle the main male character with a silly name (Reagan) and give him a silly backstory that involves hallucinations and visions that he can’t explain? Why throw any other characters into the mix at all, like Monika’s girlfriend and Reagan’s buddy (Howell) who get beaten and murdered in a drawn out gory sequence? And can we can it with all the exposition? Leave it to us to fill in some of the blanks here and there.

What I loved about MoniKa was that, though it takes place in Las Vegas, it’s the part of the city free of blinking lights, outlandish architecture, and glamor. This is the part of town on the other side of the tracks that looks dingy and beat to hell. All credit is due to Nicola Marsh (a sadly rare female DP) who gives this side of Sin City a sickly, sunstroked look that complements the ugly action onscreen quite nicely. It rises to a level that unfortunately the rest of the film can’t attain.

DVD Special Features: None to speak of, outside of some trailers for equally awful looking B-movies.

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