Every now and then a thoroughly unique and magnificently odd piece of filmmaking comes along that’s not quite classifiable, yet so refreshingly weird it can’t help but find its audience. Lake Michigan Monster, a new release from Arrow Video, is just that kind of experience. Writer/director/star Ryland Brickson Cole Tews is the warped comedic mind behind this Audience Award winner at 2019’s Fantasia Film Festival, which is above all else an absurdist comedy with a little 50s monster movie splashed in. It’s a drugged-out, black and white nautical adventure, shot on an admirably tiny budget, that watches like a lengthy sketch, and an inspired one at that. Littered with dry wit, slapstick bits, caricaturistic characters, kooky edits, and brief homages to classic B horror, Lake Michigan Monster is an earnestly funny, one-of-a-kind wild joy to watch.
Lake Michigan Monster tells the story of Seafield (Ryland Brickson Cole Tews,) a bourbon-drinking, self-absorbed, and cartoonishly goofy sea captain who sets out to kill the lion-sized aquatic monster who supposedly murdered his father on the shore of Lake Michigan near Milwaukee. He assembles an unpolished crew of misfits to assist him on the hunt. Sean Shaughnessy (Erick West) is deemed the weapons specialist. Nedge Pepsi (Beulah Peters) is the sonar expert. Former naval officer Dick Flynn (Daniel Long) is the main man of action in the water. Although the team members doubt the actual existence of this monster that Seafield is avenging, they can’t argue with the $3,000 a day he’s paying them.
The crew embark on Seafield’s haphazardly thrown-together missions, each with a comical name like “Operation Nauty Lady,” or “Operation Master Baiters.” None of the missions go as planned, resulting in far more harm than good (one member even gets impregnated by the monster.) Between failed attempts at capturing and conquering their villain in the sea, Seafield and the crew grow closer as they bond together with shore campouts and a night on the town in Milwaukee.
Despite the crew’s increasing skepticism, the monster proves to be real and threatening. Tracking down and battling it entails Seafield and remaining pals undergoing a dreamlike underwater excursion.
It doesn’t take any prior research to realize Lake Michigan Monster star Ryland Brickson Cole Tews also wrote the film, as he’s an absolute comedic force and commanding funny presence to behold. Each character has their own quirky persona and fair share of funny lines, but Tews delivers zinger after zinger as Seafield, and uses every bit of his mania for good. He moves and reacts with the manic zaniness of a pre-Seinfeld Michael Richards in his sketch comedy days at “Fridays.” For every well-written dry quip he slings, he has a goofy face or stupidly slapstick moment to match it.
In one particular scene when the crew are out galavanting in Milwaukee, Seafield gives into his childish desire to stop by the candy store. After finding out the shop’s closed he angrily calls the owners “pedophiles,” purely because he’s inconvenienced. While it isn’t the funniest moment of the film, being that there’s many, it’s a memorable example of both Seafield’s hilarious lunacy and Tews’ impeccable delivery.
The film is an absurdist work of art all its own, just as Tews evidently possesses his own brand of comedy, though it’s fair to say his style is inspired by an impressive variety of comedic geniuses of years past. Lake Michigan Monster does exude a Monty Python feel in its shift between dry cleverness and outright silliness. The offbeat concept and irreverence in many jokes brings to mind MTV’s “The State,” or the projects of former state members like “Stella” or Wet Hot American Summer. Hell, there are even a few Zucker Brother-esque wordplay gags thrown in. Lake Michigan Monster incorporates a delightful array of comedic sensibilities, and it’s no doubt the fruit of a group who found their beginnings in the world of sketch and improv.
Despite having just highly praised Tews and theorized about the comedy stylings he’s drawn from, this flick is something incomparably special in which every actor holds their own and brings their individual bit of funny. Beulah Peters is immensely charming as Nedge, and though she mostly plays it straight, she offers a plethora of laugh-worthy lines and consistently reacts hilariously dryly to the craziness going on around her. Daniel Long and Erick West, too, are formidable comedic actors in their respective roles. In fairness to everybody aside from Tews, the characters are all reserved in comparison to Seafield, and when a manic nut’s running the show it’s difficult to match their level of hilarity.
Lake Michigan Monster isn’t for everybody, and that’s vital to note. It isn’t what one would call “polarizing,” either. The film is so inventive a viewer has to acknowledge that fact. It may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but it’s hard to imagine somebody straight up disliking it. Having said that, if you’re a fan of wacky creative genius you’ll likely get a kick out of it. You don’t have to love Adult Swimish farcical comedy to find a few laughs here. As many ludicrous bits as there are, Tews wedges in enough sharp lines for the average comedy lover. You also don’t need to love old monster movies, but if you do that highly ups the appeal of Lake Michigan Monster. Plus, the in-your-face shots, quick transitions, and intentional exhibitions of a shoestring budget make for a captivating, never-dull viewing experience – and something filmmakers can find encouragement in.
As much as I would like to pin this one down to a specific genre, I really can’t, and that’s part of what’s so exciting about it. Lake Michigan Monster is inarguably a comedy; a notably funny one, but it’s new, off-the-wall, and for those who appreciate the experimental side of humor and find comfort in the world of weird filmmaking. Shades of horror seep their way in, and during trippy dream sequences matters do get partially eerie in a strange, hallucinatory sense, but the film can’t be labeled “horror-comedy.” It’s too deliberately zany to ever be horror. It’s too uniquely funny to be called a parody. It’s too imaginative to be mentioned alongside any other film, really, but those who like the work of Ed Wood might take a liking and draw slight comparisons. Tews tapped into something untamed and unabashedly different with Lake Michigan Monster, and at a run-time of just over an hour you have little excuse to not check it out on the Arrow Video Channel and get briefly lost in its innovative insanity.
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