We’re on our second dose of Shame already…how did that happen? If anyone doesn’t know what a Shamedown is, please feel free to click here for the details. Onward…
Bad indies are not an unknown subject on Taking Up Room, or to anyone for that matter in this age of YouTube. However, sometimes an indie filmmaker strikes gold, and that’s what happened with 2018’s Lake Michigan Monster, a homegrown effort that used badness to its best (worst?) advantage. Put it this way: This movie doesn’t just jump the proverbial shark; it sticks a rose in its teeth and does a tango with it.
Seafield (Ryland Brickson Cole Tews) is a ship’s captain, or at least he says he is. One day he’s out fishing on Lake Michigan with his dad when a sea monster kills his dad and drags him under.
OK, OK. Lake monster. Sorry, Captain.
Out for revenge, Seafield assembles a crack team of the best minds from…someplace. There’s Nedge Pepsi (Beulah Peters), sonar individual. There’s Dick Flynn (Daniel Long), former Navy, or Nautical Athletes Adventure Yunit, sailor. And finally there’s Shaun Shaughnassey (Erick West), weapons expert. They’re the Team of the Century. All brave, strong, hearty of limb and light of purse, so they’re eager to assist Seafield in his quest even though they don’t really believe there’s a lake monster.
The initial plan, codenamed Operation Annihilation, involves Dick leaping into the water from a kayak and drawing the monster out. Nedge is set up with sonar equipment on the beach while Shaun stands by ready to hack the creature to bits. The plan doesn’t work in the slightest, so Seafield has everyone adjourn to his house for bourbon and fish sticks served by his elderly wife, Martha (Lucille Tews).
While everyone is noshing, Seafield makes the mistake of dipping a fish stick in his glass of bourbon, which no one should ever try because apparently it’s ultra-super yucky. Moving on…
The Team of the Century’s second attempt, rebranded Operation Nauty Lady, is the same exact plan, only Dick has to leap into the water in the all-together. He’s not too happy at the idea, but he warms up when he learns there are three-thousand dollar checks in it for he and the rest of the team.
Freudian? Yep. Just a little. It’s also more effective, because the monster’s hands surface and drag poor Dick under. He lives, though, and no one knows why.
Seafield brings in his brother, Ashcroft (Wayne Tews), who proposes a different plan of attack: Operation Master Baiter, which basically involves Seafield skewering a couple of roast chickens on a harpoon and tossing the whole shebang into the water. It works; the monster likes chicken, but the Team still can’t catch it. All that happens is it leaves a note saying it’ll see Seafield in his dreams. Long story short, after visions of Dick caressing a polka-dotted egg dance in his head, Seafield leaps out of bed and wades into the lake, where he finds said egg and has Shaun blow the heck out of it with his AR-15.
Things get complicated from here on out. Like, really complicated.
Dick is mad because he figures out the egg contained his unborn child. Then the Team of the Century decides they’ve been had and goes off to play a round of golf. Seafield is now alone and feeling hunted by the ghost of Shaun Shaughnessy, who was dragged under by the monster during Operation Eggscuse Me, Time To Die. Seafield leaps into the murky depths of Lake Michigan, where, amazingly enough, he can breathe and talk with no problems, all while doing a perfect breaststroke.
Story-wise and film-wise, Lake Michigan Monster is a mashup of Moby Dick, Red Dwarf, Yellow Submarine, Mel Brooks, Stanley Kubrick, Richard Lester, Roger Corman, The Simpsons, Monty Python, silent films, high school plays, frat parties, drunken stupors, and Saturday morning cartoons. Whew. It is busy. Lots of weird angles, and not just Dutch ones–it’s not uncommon to see the camera pointed straight up a character’s nose. There’s quick editing and sometimes a sped-up frame rate, and everything has a Zapruder-type flashback look to it except that it’s in black and white.
Seafield is over-the-top cartoon-y in his delivery and performance, although the movie is not in the least for kids. Everyone else plays it straight while he hams it up, and the incredulous looks on their faces are probably not entirely acting. What makes it work is that the whole cast takes everything very seriously. It would have been easy for them to break character, too, because the cast is made up of Tewes’ friends and relatives (His mother plays Seafield’s wife, by the way.).
Believe it or not, the look of the film is deliberate. In an interview with CBR, Tewes, who was also the director and screenwriter, said that they only had access to a DSLR camera, a Nikon D3100, to be exact, belonging to Beulah Peters. They knew going in that the picture quality would be bad, so they leaned into it, trying to make everything look grainy and mostly undefined.
Lake Michigan Monster was a nice surprise and it gets better with each viewing. The first time I saw it I thought it was hilarious and enjoyed it and everything, but half the time my face looked something like this:
The second time around I was able to notice how well-thought out the movie is and pick up on the nuances of the story. It was hard choosing what to screencap, to be honest, because there’s so much good stuff. Lake Michigan Monster is fun, that’s all, and it might be a nice surprise for those who are expecting a run-of-the-mill bad movie.
And now for that other bit of business. For this month’s Pick My Movie Tag, I hereby call upon Barry of Cinematic Catharsis to review something from his watchlist if he’s willing. Again, it doesn’t matter if it’s streaming or physical, but the longer it’s been on the list, the better. All right, thanks for reading, all, and see you on Valentine’s Day for a review of an unusual romcom…
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