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Impulse Buy Theater - The Lake Michigan Monster




“One month ago, me and a fellow ship captain o’ mine ventured out on a morning fishing trip upon the great tides of Lake Michigan. As we cast our lines, suddenly, from out of nowhere, a hellish sea monster crept up from the shallow depths, boarded our vessel, and killed my associate. It then dragged him underwater and vanished into the murky abyss. The victim here was my father. The authorities would say ‘Sea monsters aren’t real…or for that matter, lake monsters’. And so, I hired a group of specialists to help me locate the beast…and murder it.” – Capt. Seafield


You know, when it comes to filmmaking in the Midwest…I can’t help but think that there’s something in the water. We’ve seen Ohio’s attempt, the dreadful Llamageddon, and now, on the shores of another Great Lake, we turn our attention to Milwaukee, Wisconsin and the vision of one Ryland Brickson Cole Tews: writer, director and actor in The Lake Michigan Monster. How I came across this film is all happenstance…or, perhaps less poetically, YouTube’s algorithm. And it wasn’t even this film…but Tews’ upcoming film: Hundreds of Beavers.


Upon watching the trailer for that film…I became OBSESSED. It’s been on the festival circuit since its wrapping in 2022, even now still bopping around in early 2024 before getting a Blu-ray release this summer. Unable to see the film until later this year, I figured I’d see if Tews had done anything else and watch it instead, if for no other reason than to get a feel for what I might be dealing with when I finally sit down to watch Beavers. This led me to our review for today: The Lake Michigan Monster.


Honestly, I could write this review in one word: Absurd. No, no, no…not the dismissive “absurd”, like when your friend suggests that drinking Malort is a good idea…but fucking ABSURD, like you and your friend dropped acid and now the walls are melting, your hair is worms and your dog is now fluent in English, German, and Swahili and making fun of you in all three languages. Maybe the best way for me to describe this film is to refer to the master of surrealist cinema, Alejandro Jodorowski. When taking on the quest to make his ill-fated adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune, he said that he wanted the film to essentially like cinematic LSD…the film would be like a trip for the audience, but with no drug, instead triggered by the movie itself. And I think Tews’ film nails that. The film, its events and its visuals are tangled in a dream logic that is both nonsensical and yet coherent, much like the film’s main character, played by Tews himself, Capt. Seafield.


Okay, that last sentence there was horribly pretentious…wasn’t it? Let me put it this way: I think this film is what happens to film students when they smoke weed, take in an Igmar Bergman marathon then fall asleep to Looney Tunes on the TV. This is the dream that emerges in their heads. You have a man who is clearly insane in Seafield…or is he? I mean sure, he’s living in a lighthouse museum (likely illegally), seeing ghost armies, phantom ships and is a pathological liar…but he DOES end up being right. A sea monster did kill his father. But the sequence of events in the film seem like they’re assembled by a madman. (That madman being Mike Cheslik, the director of the aforementioned Hundreds of Beavers.) Did I mention one team member gets raped and lays an egg? I feel like I should bring that up. And no, they didn’t go for the obvious and have this fate befall the female sonar operator, Nedge Pepsi. Instead, it’s former navy sailor/musical director Dick Flynn. Rounding out this team is the weapons expert, Sean Shaughnessy. And…ugh. That might be the only bad part of the film. Not the actor, oh no…he, like everyone else in the cast, do an excellent job being unwilling participants in Seafield’s delusions…but the joke. The joke just gets overused because every time Seafield refers to him, it is by his full name: Sean Shaughnessy. Okay, yes, it’s funny the first couple of times, but by a half-hour into the movie you’re almost to the point where you want to yell at the screen “ENOUGH ALREADY!”.


So, everything is weird and incoherent…why am I recommending this again? The style. Look, any low-budget film can be filmed on video these days. Heck, I’m sure this one was. But Tews takes the time to insert false film grain, pseudo-scratches and cigarette burns and it ends up giving the film an older vibe. Additionally, the use of the occasional interstitials and the fonts used there do end up harkening back to old-school silent films. Aiding in that is a soundtrack that feels like it was created from old public domain songs from the 20s. On top of all this, the effects, clearly cheap and digital, are realized in such a way that they steer into the skid: if they’re gonna look cartoony anyway, let’s make them as cartoony as possible. And it works. It’s a style you’ve never seen anywhere else and for me, it was captivating…taking as much influence from master filmmakers as the aforementioned Bergman or maybe a David Lynch analogy would be well-used here and smashing it into the works of Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng and Tex Avery. Whether you love it (like I do) or hate it, there is one simple fact: you cannot look away. It is simply too unique.


Like the best of dreams, it too is fleeting. The film only runs 74 minutes. It basically gets in there, totally fucks with your brain and then gets out before you have any time to think about what you just saw. Honestly, if you’re not asking someone “what the fuck did I just watch?” upon it’s completion, I don’t know what you did…but somehow, you did the movie wrong.


Look, whether or not you want to see this film boils down to one question: Have you ever wanted to try peyote? Having never taken a hallucinogenic myself, I can’t say the experiences are comparable…but if I was a betting man? I’d put money on them being similar. If I were a pretentious reviewer, I’d call this avant-garde filmmaking. But I’m a drive-in mutant, so I’m going to tell you that this movie is batshit crazy. And you should watch it. I mean it. I’ll loan you my copy, but you gotta bring it back.


The film’s not perfect, but it seeps with such an amazing style that almost outweighs everything. Now I REALLY can’t wait to see Hundreds of Beavers. So, in the race of Great Lakes filmmaking, as one would expect, Ohio is something to flee from…but those magnificent bastards in Milwaukee? Clearly severely cold winters and too much beer result in a fascinating brain damage. And I want more. For its sheer originality alone, we bestow The Lake Michigan Monster with a Hypno-Cat.


Okay, I won’t loan you my copy…but the movie is streaming on Amazon Prime at the time of this writing. Or you can buy your own copy here.





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