Other Worlds Review: Lake Michigan Monster
Imagine if the Monkees made The Lighthouse
By Richard Whittaker,
5:18PM, Wed. Dec. 11, 2019
There is a lost art to absolute meaninglessness. Not low-grade nihilism, or arch, "a show about nothing" social commentary, but real, dyed-in-the-wool silliness for silliness' sake. Thank god (or Ogden Nash) for Lake Michigan Monster, a micro-budget, black-and-white whimsical voyage of wonderful waffling.
Not that Captain Seafield (writer/director/actor Ryland Tews) doesn't have serious business. The Lake Michigan Monster killed his friend (or was it his father?), and now he has assembled a crack squad to help him take down this fiendish fish. Avast, ye landlubbers, as he sets sail with surly weapons expert Sean Shaughnessy (Erick West), sonar individual Medge Pepsi – although she spells it Pepsp (Beulah Peters) - and former Nautical Athletes Adventure Yunit officer Dick Flynn (Daniel Long) to land this beast. Apart from the fact that none of this is true. Or all of it. Or most of it, but not necessarily how you'd presume. And what kind of sea captain doesn't know what a fathom is? And what happened to his eyebrows?
Filmed on a budget that makes Cory McAbee's beloved and eccentric The American Astronaut look like Abel Gance's Napoleon, it would be a simple marker to describe Michigan Sea Monster as a more mature Spongebob Squarepants, but nothing about this is mature. Shot in black and white, the dialogue all dubbed with ridiculous overperformances, its sublime silliness is equal parts 1980s cut up culture, 1960s absurdism a la The Bed Sitting Room, and 1930s serial pulp. The performances are big and weird and fun, as if Tews' notes to the actors probably just said "Romp around and look occasionally baffled," and that was more than enough. Most of all, it wraps itself in fantasy, culminating in Seafield and his ghost army (don't ask, just wait) having their final toe-to-tentacle showdown with the monster.
Even though this film exists in the bottomless fathoms somewhere below microbudget, Trews proves that you can't buy ingenuity or inventiveness. Cheap CG is hidden by turning the grain up on the film, and that only adds to the impact, much as the hand-made feel of every prop and costume only adds to the bespoke charm. It's a woozy, briny daydream. a gleefully idiotic antidote to everything. Lake Michigan Monster literally makes no sense, and that's why you need to just hold your breath and dive in.
Lake Michigan MonsterOther Worlds Film Festival, Dec. 6
A version of this review ran as part of our Fantasia 2019 coverage.