Monsterland is grim and emotional but effective; what makes it stand out is its running theme — trauma.
This review of Hulu’s Monsterland season 1 contains no spoilers. The anthological series will be released on the streaming service on October 2, 2020.
We recapped every episode — check out the archive.
When Hulu dropped the monthly Into the Dark we were left with duds and some satisfactory tales. Unfortunately, that anthological series never truly stood its ground; each release lacked enthusiasm despite the hype beforehand. Hulu’s new anthological series Monsterland makes up for the shortfalls of the former — although, admittedly, I did get anxious that I was going to be dulled down by unimaginative writing.
Monsterland is based on the short story collection North American Lake Monsters: Stories by Nathan Ballingrud and consists of eight episodes. Hulu has wisely decided to drop the series in one batch to give audiences the choice of what story they’d like to devour first. Each chapter focuses on different characters in different locations as they face “monsters” in their lives.
I placed monsters in speech marks purely because the Hulu series shows a thin line between human and monster. Some of the chapters expose the leading character as a monster while on the other hand, metaphorically shows a supernatural being that leads the viewers to debate and question the meaning of the moment. Monsterland could have easily bordered on frustrating with its lack of answers but instead, viewers will be left feeling provoked, toying with different outcomes and possibilities.
Monsterland is grim and emotional but effective; what makes it stand out is its running theme — trauma. Every character that is presented in this series is struggling with a traumatic event in their lives, regardless if they are a good or a bad person. Monsterland chooses to sweep morality aside and instead shows the true breadth of how trauma can truly impact a person — often, the trauma is the monster — the monster is the mind; from the loss of a child to loneliness, the series exposes a range of real-life human issues.
And that’s where Hulu’s Monsterland hits the right sweet spot; the series glazes itself in horror and fantasy and the “what ifs” but its true power is the humanness of the narrative. Despite the unhinged Universe spilling out into the various plot forms, the single consistent element that draws the viewers in is the character’s emotions and ultimate decision making.
The Hulu series does well with the cast; noticeably, Monsterland brings in the highly talented Kaitlyn Dever, Taylor Schilling, and Mike Colter; each with their own respective episode. But it’s difficult to fault the other cast members as well — with a special mention going to Kelly Marie Tran who is given the chance to show off her talents since the suppressing Star Wars. The series is truly a performance-based achievement, making the plot devices a mere add-on to the greater purpose of the story.
With anthology series’, there is usually a chapter that serves as a bad apple that paints a mark on the compilation — Monsterland season 1 does not have that one terrible chapter — it’s relatively consistent from start to finish. We can only hope that Monsterland has a resounding impact so we can enjoy more stories for a second installment.