Here There Be Monsters is a 2018 Australian short film from writer and director Drew MacDonald. The film has screened at more than 50 festivals around the world, including Sitges, BIFF, DragonCon, BIFAN, Screamfest, and more, winning multiple awards along the way.

However, you won’t have to travel very far to watch the film as it was released to ALTER (on YouTube) this past April 24th. Seeing as most of us aren’t traveling farther than our couches for the immediate future, you should have ample opportunity to experience this 13-minute film for yourselves. That said, I’ve included the film at the end of the review to help expedite that. Feel free to skip the review and just watch the damned movie.

Here There Be Monsters opens to find a young girl, Elki, riding the school bus for her trip home. However, it’s far from a pleasant trip as she must contend with incessant bullying from the two (seemingly) older girls in the seat behind her. While this bullying may stem from her being of a different skin color, the reason is never said. Actually, NOTHING is said. The film is entirely dialog free.

One of the girls is clearly the aggressor, with her friend playing more of a “follower” role and just going along with the act for laughs. Clearly bothered, but hesitant to retaliate, Elki makes a half-hearted effort to stand up for herself by elbowing her seat. However, all this does is incite the antagonist, who responds by increasing the violence and brutality of her assault, leaving the younger girl with gum in her hair, tears in her eyes, and a bloody wound in her neck!

Other girls on the bus witness the incident, but do nothing out of fear of retaliation, indifference, or possibly because none of them want to be seen as “uncool” for standing up for the (possibly) “less popular” student. When two older girls finally depart the bus, Elki collapses onto her seat, crying her pain away. She unknowingly falls asleep, and as such, sleeps through her stop. She awakens much later to find that the driver has parked the vehicle in the storage depot for the evening and departed for home.

The darkness of night surrounding her, Elki attempts to find a way off the bus, but her attention is quickly drawn to something moving a short distance away. It reveals itself to be a hideous monster of some sort, one that now seems quite intent on finding her! There’s a brief game of cat-and-mouse before she is ultimately forced to face the threat.

The focus shifts to the end of the film, offering a glimpse at the life of the film’s bully, played with seething conviction by actress Jordan Small, which may provide some insight into what helps “make” a bully, or at least this particular one. This character must also face their own fears, as well as the repercussions of their actions. While many may leave shocked by Here There Be Monsters, just as many (if not more) may be left feeling uncomfortable by the film’s final moments.

While Here There Be Monsters is undeniably an allegory for bullying and the effects it may have on the victims, as well as the perpetrators, it is also undeniably just as much a genuine “creature feature”. While the creature may not be shown enough to truly showcase the effects on display, the damned thing still looks legitimately intimidating. It may also be to the film’s benefit that the creature isn’t overseen, as it helps lend credence to the theory that the creature may not even exist (although the “monster” indisputably does).

What truly helps HTBM stand out is the notably strong acting; in particular, the exceptional performance from lead, Savannah Foran-McDaniel. Outside of a few gasps and screams, Foran-McDaniel must rely on her eyes and facial expressions to not only convey her characters thoughts and emotions, but to also help progress the plot. In these regards, there are numerous adult actors and actresses who should be taking notes while watching this young girl’s heartbreaking performance.

At only 13 minutes, you have little reason to not watch Here There Be Monsters. It offers up outstanding performances, a neat looking creature, a couple shocks, and a story that won’t leave you felling all warm inside afterwards. And let’s face it, you’re not going anywhere other than the grocery store for a little while.

As mentioned, Here There Be Monsters is now available to watch for free on ALTER on YouTube. To help provoke you to actually watch the film, here’s the link to the film on ALTER. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!!