Every author gets this question in interviews or meeting the public — his or her fans.
“Where do you get your ideas?” And as a variation on that, there’s “Who is your muse?”
Author Mitch Stockridge has several answers he gives to these, but none hint at the truth. He has a muse he keeps locked in an upstairs bedroom of his house. He gets his ideas from a monster he has to keep sated with the taste of human flesh.
That’s the dark and clever conceit at the heart of a thriller shot in Tallahassee, a reasonably well-acted and tightly-plotted slice of horror lite.
The title “A Brilliant Monster” refers to that toothy blob of raging “id” — and to the guy who depends on it. Because whatever this beast is that keeps eating people and spitting out pearls of self-help book wisdom, it’s turned Mitch (Dennis Friebe) in a psychopath.
The opening credits of F.C. Rabbath’s indie film note that “Steve Jobs was a ‘monster’ in real life” and DaVinci and other creative people had “monster” attached to their reputation at one time or another.
We meet Mitch wearing gloves and immaculate paint shop coveralls as he “cleans” a pickup truck which could link him to some unexplained crime. He has a somewhat elaborate modus operandi — a mute driver (dressed like a member of the chorus from “Guys and Dolls”) picks him up and covers his tracks.
Mitch is locally famous thanks to his ability to grind out “life changing self-help books,” collections of stories around a redemptive theme with titles like “All is Forgiven” or “Your Life is Beautiful.”
Fans tell him “Your book changed my life/saved my friend’s life,” etc. He can get touchy about the “where you get your ideas from” thing.
And when he gets home, the love — from his “more PAGES” editor (Susan Morgan) ends and the prickly criticism from his aged invalid father (David Raizor) begins.
“I would’ve been proud of a son who became a DOCTOR,” dear old Dad drawls. That’s the nicest of his insults.
We’re learning about Mitch through the flashbacks and descriptions of his ex, Sophie (Alea Figueroa) who has quite a story to tell the detectives (Joy Kigin, Bill Kelly).
“He’s done things, terrible things to others. Even terrible things to me.”
When she gets to the punchline, that there’s a blobby beast who gives Mitch his ideas in exchange for being fed bar pick-ups, hated childhood bullies who come back into his life and others, only the female detective, Abby, takes her seriously. The guy?
But but…”his books are on POSITIVITY!” As if Oprah and Doctor Phil couldn’t be serial killers.
The investigation sends Abby to visit Mitch more than once as men and women from town go missing, with just a hint of a connection to Mitch linking the possible crimes.
“A Brilliant Monster” is more a film festival “calling card” picture than one polished, funny and suspenseful enough to hold its own in the movie marketplace — even in the expanded universe of Netflix, Amazon and other streaming means of distribution.
But Rabbath creatively hides the monster from the camera for much of the film, putting his camera inside the toothy maw in scenes where Mitch introduces his muse to his victims.
Friebe, a testy-stubbly dead ringer for Zachary Quinto or Eli Roth, gets across the deadline pressure Mitch is under, his bitter relationship with his disapproving dad AND his profane resentment and annoyance at the growls and grumbles from the hungry muse — cursing through the door at the darned thing.
Dad’s put-downs are blunt and biting, delivering the only real laughs in what this dark comedy. His son mentions that the author his father is reading used to share agents with him,
“You know this guy? That’s a shame. I USED to like him.”
Kigin does generic police obsession with a quarry well. And Mick Leali has a Seth Rogen/Adam Devine lightness to his turn as Mitch’s married lifelong best friend.
Horror that avoids showing us as much as this one does may be cost effective, but without the gore, “A Brilliant Monster” would be a hard sell to the fanbase.
The gore could have been over-the-top and hilarious, and with more jokes and testy-amusing exchanges between Mitch and the cop, the editor, his pal, his father and his ex, this “Monster” might have lived up to its title.
As it is, it never clears the “rough draft” stage, rising occasionally to the “clever” level, always well short of “brilliant.”
MPAA Rating: unrated, implied violence, sexual situations, profanity
Cast: Dennis Friebe, Joy Kigin, Alea Figueroa , Mick Leali, Jason Fusco
Running time: 1:26