Dir. Doug Roos (2023)
A monster lurks inside a cheap Tokyo rental hotel.
The concept of transformation is pretty common in horror. Whether it's the resurrection of the dead to become zombies, a person who is infected transforming into a vampire, or even just a regular average Joe who becomes a vicious serial killer, nearly every horror staple involves some kind of change. Bakemono, an indie horror film about a monster that lives inside an Airbnb, follows this same pattern: in fact, bakemono means "transforming into a creature" in the film's native Japanese. By focusing on the transformative aspect of the prototypical monster movie, Bakemono tries to become a film with more to say than might appear on the surface.
It's difficult to sum up the plot of the film because it doesn't contain much of a plot, per se. The film is instead a mixture of vignettes, each involved a collection of people who are drawn to this hotel room containing a creepy and disgusting monster. The stories are not linear, each happening together within the film and each telling a story of different people's experiences inside the room. Some are killed by the monster and some become killers themselves, a gory transformative process that, eventually, results in death and dismemberment for the victim. Unfortunately, because there's very little connecting the stories, Bakemono becomes almost an anthology film with no real linkage between its multiple pieces.
The gore in the film is legit, as is the monster design. The main problem with the film as a whole is the lighting, which makes it too dark to see what is otherwise a well-designed and well-constructed monster movie with some fantastic effects. The concept of the transformation, from the best itself to the characters who interact within its abode, is an interesting one, and it's an idea rife for discussion within the context of a horror movie. Placing all of this within the context of a Japanese rental property, in which this supernatural and malevolent entity is able to cause chaos on its inhabitants, is a fantastic idea. It plays on some of the cultural mythology of Japan while maintaining a concept that plays well for American audiences as well.
The film prides itself on giving a pretty comprehensive overview of the people who live in Japan. The director has stated that it's abnormal to show Americans living in Japan in Japanese productions, and I hadn't really thought of how rarely that occurs until having that discussion. He's right, it's a unique occurrence that this film focuses on. The mixture between Japanese and English is interesting, a fairly uncommon piece of the movie that will be unique for students of film in general. The broad overview of the different sectors of Japanese life make this for an interesting watch for fans of films from that country, and really helps to broaden the appeal of what could have otherwise been a fairly standard indie monster movie.
The drawbacks of the film, which are focused mainly on barely being able to see what's going on during some of the runtime and the general lack of narrative, don't hurt too terribly. The sound design is excellent, from the grotesque icky noises when the monster is on screen to the fantastic score that runs throughout. The effects, as mentioned before, are stellar, and I wish that the film had given viewers more of an opportunity to celebrate the work being put on display. While this film won't be everyone's cup of tea because of the reasons mentioned above, it's still very much a worthwhile indie monster flick with some great selling points. Hopefully it will be shown to a wide market, because it will likely find some fans.
Who this movie is for: Asian horror fans, Monster movie lovers, Hospitality workers
Bottom line: While there are a few shortcomings of the film, Bakemono is an excellent effort at creating an indie monster movie with some stellar practical effects. The unique look at Japanese culture is worth a watch by itself, with a nice little slice-of-life aspect that just so happens to be ruined by monster mayhem. While I would've like to see more of what was going on, nearly every other part of the film, from the cinematography to the acting, is done incredibly well. Definitely recommend checking this one out if you're a fan of Asian horror or monster movies specifically.