Hulu’s new anthology series Monsterland tells eight stories, each set in an atypical, spooky town or city. As the tagline suggests, the real monsters live within and they manifest in subtle, often deadly, ways. Although each parable stands alone and features different main characters, some familiar faces have cameos in other episodes to show they’re all occupying the same world.
The series is based on Nathan Ballingrud’s 2013 short story collection North American Lake Monsters and is adapted for TV by Mary Laws (AMC’s Preacher and The Neon Demon). A book like this lends itself perfectly to the screen because there is a uniformity to the tales that are unique to the author. Laws, who is known for her stylistic flourishes, anchors the tales with an underlying flow of melancholy.
The first episode is called Port Fourchon, LA. In it, we follow a struggling young mom, Toni (Kaitlyn Dever, Booksmart), who works as a waitress in a vermin-infested diner on the outskirts of town. She is barely managing to raise her mentally-ill little girl, Jack (Vivian Cabell) by herself. She’s got nobody in her corner. Just when Toni is at her lowest point—her daycare provider gets fed up with Jack’s antics and quits, then her ramshackle home’s utilities are shut off—a stranger bearing a bankroll and in need of a favor shows up. Whether it’s a devil’s bargain or not, Toni is desperate. Once Alex (Jonathan Tucker, Westworld) is permitted into her home, he turns the tables, making Toni question her very existence. She realizes that sometimes the choices we make have the potential to turn us into monsters—and the consequences can last a lifetime.
Port Fourchon, LA. is one of the sadder stories, and the reveal as to why Jack is so high-strung (and downright annoying) is one that you probably won’t see coming. Director Anne Sewitsky (Black Mirror) brings more sorrow than scares to this story—which may not be what horror fans are looking for this Halloween season. Shot in dim, grainy, dreary tones and featuring poignant music, this installment is definitely one of the more haunting tales.
The rest of the series follows malevolent mermaids, fallen angels, and other strange beasts who drive broken people to desperate acts and the baring of their souls in Monsterland. Here’s a brief rundown of what else you can expect.
- Newark, NJ: A grieving couple struggles to say goodbye.
- Iron River, MI: A neglected daughter longs for another life.
- Palacios, TX: A disgruntled fisherman makes the catch of a lifetime.
- Plainfield, IL: A suburban lawyer debates life and death.
- New York, NY: A wealthy CEO suffers for his sins.
- New Orleans, LA: A socialite struggles with her past.
- Eugene, OR: A lonely teen encounters an unwelcome guest.
While Monsterland’s title is misleading—yes, technically there are monsters, but they are of the subtle sort—it’s worth a look for those who prefer their horror more thought-provoking than pulse-pounding.