MONSTERS OF CALIFORNIA (2023)
Release Date: 10/06/23 [VOD]
Genre: Adventure. SciFi.
Studio: Screen Media Films.
"Teenager Dallas Edwards, and his derelict friends on a quest for the meaning behind a series of mysterious, paranormal events in Southern California."
OUR MOVIE REVIEW:
What do God, aliens, and friendship have in common? They’re only a handful of the themes and ideas explored in musician Tom DeLonge’s directorial debut Monsters of California.
Clearly inspired by the works of Steven Spielberg and Amblin classics such as E.T. The Extraterrestrial and The Goonies, the film follows one teenager and his three friends as they try to decode a message his father left behind before mysteriously vanishing. What starts off as an honest investigation into the disappearance turns into an entanglement between several strange paranormal phenomena and the government. On a literal adventure of a lifetime, the group becomes forced to face the truth about some of humanity’s greatest mysteries.
If the film sounds incredibly ambitious and ambiguous, it’s because it is. There are so many thoughts and concepts thrown at the audience over its nearly two hour runtime that it’s easier to become confused than enlightened. It’s almost too ironic that Delonge, known for his iconic vocals in Blink-182, has so much he wants to say, but just can’t seem to get those ideas across cohesively.
There’s no better evidence of that than the way the film constantly switches genres and changes tone. Beginning with a serious voiceover from the film’s protagonist, Dallas, the film is set up as an introspective drama. Moments later, however, when we meet his friends (Toe and Riley) it becomes a horror comedy as they try to catch a demon. The film then gradually transforms into a conspiracy thriller, then into a romance and a buddy road trip, before eventually finding its footing as a religious allegory.
Simply put, the script is a mess. One second, our main character is doing a voiceover about his purpose in life or how much he misses his dad. Next, his friend is talking about wanting to see his sister naked. As baffling as some of the narrative choices are, the film is the furthest thing from boring. In fact, the direction and some of the performances are solid enough to mostly distract you from how ridiculous the plot and dialogue are. DeLonge’s direction is honestly one of the most impressive aspects of the film. The aforementioned sequence involving a demon actually evokes the innocence, humor, and awe that have made the Amblin banner so charming. The same thing can be said for when the gang eventually encounters Bigfoot and are chased by the government too.
Newcomer Jack Samson delivers a good performance as Dallas. It’s worth noting that despite the film’s fluctuation in tone, he is arguably the film’s most compelling constant. But it’s actually comic legend Richard Kind who steals the show. He plays an old friend of Dallas’ dad who guides him and his friends on their journey before ultimately joining them. Although his character is designed as a walking cliche - an old man with all the convenient exposition - he brings a reluctance to the role that makes it feel refreshing. He is easily one of the film’s brightest spots.
Over a decade ago, DeLonge and his post Blink-182 outfit, Angels & Airwaves, produced a film called Love. You couldn’t tell by the title, but it was a science fiction film about an astronaut who mysteriously discovers a book dated from the 1800s aboard his ship. It’s a story that traverses space and time to tell the story of human connection. Looking at DeLonge’s newest project, Monsters of California, there are some strong parallels between the two. Again, you can’t tell by the title but the film is not necessarily about monsters or even the titular golden state. In both, he once again attempts to connect science, religion, life, and love (obviously). Not to say that they aren’t related or can’t be, but the way in which he believes they intersect and wants us to interact with those ideas just isn’t clear. The result might be viewed by some as an utter abomination.