UMP Review – We Are Monster

An aesthetic psychological drama set in a British prison, which revolves around a mentally ill and racist young criminal. A solid piece of cinema from UK.

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Ferocious hatred with a racist background is the final outcome of a combination of two factors according to “We Are  Monster”. The fault partially lies in traumatic childhood experiences of an aggressive individual and partially in the incompetence of prison authorities. And even though both reasons stand for solid arguments, Anthony Petrou’s film is completely powerless in defining any particular solution to the problem. 

Robert Stewart (Leeshan Alexander) is a schizophrenic, whose ferocious nature has led him to a sentence in jail. His inmate is a Pakistani, who is about to finish doing his time. Stewart, who’s being “influenced” by his hatred-filled alter ego, nurtures the anger inside, which eventually leads to a drama.

“We Are Monster” opens up with a  steady shot of a long prison corridor and eerie music. This beginning is more meaningful to the story than one could possibly imagine – those empty walls, sharp, bright lights and ubiquitous silence are the only parts of reality in this dream-like concept, which “We Are Monster” is based on. The artistic cinematography interferes with the harsh atmosphere inside the jail’s walls – it’s a brightful contradiction of a prison portrayal in comparison with movies like “Starred Up” or “Shawshank Redemption”. The saturated colors blended in comic book imagery is combined with delicate, almost ethereal soundtrack, which constitute a disturbing way of telling this story. Ironically, this mezmerizing directorial creativity is the main reason for the film’s ultimate failure.

Whilst this artistic cocktail fascinates, the story itself is nothing fresh and what’s more – it’s told in an unconvincing manner. Alexander’s acting is too over-dramatic, as though the actor wanted to dig into the role to the biggest extent possible. As a consequence, he is simply fading in a gaudy, but tempting, visual jam of “We Are Monster”. The trauma he is burdened with is broadly discussed by Petrou, but it remains the weakest part of the film nonetheless. Too many times we have been told this story of a traumatized kid, which bursts with fury, being left without anywhere to go. Petrou criticizes his main character, but only in the very end, being rather indecisive throughout the entire film. This lack of confidence by the director is also the reason why “We Are Monster” is annoying in the end. Although we should obviously cricize Stewart, he’s so exaggerated that it discourages from engaging emotionally in the film.

Petrou’s biggest mistake was to implement such a flourishing cinematography and apply it to a sleazy prison (even though the one in the film is of very high standard…). Instead of building up the contrast, it creates a contradiction to itself and constitutes an obstacle for Alexander’s interpretation of Stewart. The leading actor does his best to fit into this oneiric reality, but his performance is detached from the rest of the spectacle and causes a mayhem. As a whole, the film does not deliver any bold claims regarding racism issues in the Great Britain, nor it helps to understand the phenomenon as a whole. Despite all that, Petrou is a name to follow – a better screenplay could vastly contribute a fantastic drama.

UMP Grade: 35.5/50

(Cinematography: 9, Plot: 5, Acting: 6, Soundtrack: 8, Quaintness: 7.5)

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