Three teenagers, Dustin James “D.J.” Walters, Chowder, and Jennifer “Jenny” Bennett discover that their neighbor’s house is actually a monster that hates children. With Halloween approaching, the trio must find a way to destroy the structure before innocent trick-or-treaters meet ghastly ends.
Monster House has always been one of those movies that I have extremely fond memories of watching many, many years ago. I haven’t seen it since I was about eight or nine years old, but I remember watching the film and thinking it was absolutely incredible. The film may be a bit much for nine-year-olds to handle, but it’s kind of what makes the movie all the more fun to watch.
Remember when you were a kid and you used to watch a movie or television show that you knew you probably weren’t allowed to watch because it was too mature but you watched it anyway? That’s my experience with Monster House. It’s not as scary and chilling as Coraline or anything, but it still manages to be just creepy enough to make younger viewers sleep with the door closed at night.
Gil Kenan in his directorial debut does a magnificent job at creating a world that feels lived in and atmospheric. It’s all the more impressive when you realize that the entire movie is basically just set in one neighborhood, yet the setting feels so much more expansive and rich. It’s the perfect type of movie to watch on a cold October night with tons of snacks and blankets.
But aside from the excellently eerie and creepy atmosphere, Monster House does an amazing job at capturing childhood wonder and innocence. Steven Spielberg perhaps does this the best. He creates movies that audiences of all ages can enjoy but injects them with a wondrous feeling of childhood wonder. There is just something special about watching a group of kids band together to try to figure out mysteries. It’s one of the main reasons why Stand By Me is so beloved by millions of people all around the world. It tells a great, compelling story but it also injects viewers with so much nostalgia and reminds them of the good old days of when they were a kid. Monster House does the exact same thing.
It also helps that all three of these lead kids are a blast to watch. The dynamic between the three of them is infectiously charming and fun. DJ is best friends with Chowder and has been for a long time. They frequently play basketball together and they look forward to Halloween night every year so they can get candy from trick or treating.
But when they meet Jenny, things start to get a little bit out of hand. It’s made abundantly clear that both DJ and Chowder have massive crushes on Jenny and she can tell right off the bat. The way they awkwardly mess up around her creates for some genuinely great laughs and character building along the way.
If I were to pinpoint the biggest flaw in Monster House though, it would have to be the character development for the side characters. The first act of the film makes it seem like DJ’s older sister Elizabeth and her love interest Bones are going to be major characters. They spend a little bit of time with each one of these characters at first, but later on, they almost completely abandon them.
Even DJ, Chowder, and Jenny’s parents get next to nothing when it comes to screentime and development. The movie is so focused on telling the story of what happens with these three kids that it does unfortunately forget to explore the side characters a little bit.
However, in the long run, Monster House manages to be a delightfully atmospheric and endearing children’s horror adventure that has plenty of thrills and laughs to keep viewers of all ages entertained.
Overall Grade: A-
MPAA Rating: PG for scary images and sequences, thematic elements, some crude humor, and brief language
Directed by: Gil Kenan
Distributed by: Sony Pictures Releasing
Release Date: July 21, 2006
Running Time: 91 minutes