DirectorRyland Brickson Cole Tews
Release Date(s)2018 (November 3, 2020)
Studio(s)Ryland Tews (Arrow Video)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A+
- Extras Grade: A
Premiering at film festivals in 2018 and hitting VOD earlier this year, Lake Michigan Monster is a “you have to see it to believe it” kind of film. It operates on its own unorthodox but entertaining logic, defying low budget pratfalls and settling into its own oddball existence. It blows through its 78-minute running time with ease, covering every genre imaginable and employing the use of stylistically dingy and damaged black and white photography, stop motion animation, silly dialogue, musical numbers, random pacing, CGI, and a variety of opticals. It’s Wes Anderson meets Edgar Wright meets Tony Scott by way of Sarah Jacobson and Guy Maddin. Judging it from a purely subjective point of view, it’s certainly put together well, free of traditional approaches and totally outside the box—basically the polar opposite of most low budget filmmaking. That’s no mean feat for a project with little to no cast or crew, which is the only way the film could exist outside of the studio system. Though still in its infancy as far as the general public is concerned, Lake Michigan Monster could easily obtain cult status under the right circumstances.
Seafield (Ryland Brickson Cole Tews), an unusual and narcissistic sea captain with a penchant for the peculiar, is planning revenge against the monster that dragged his father overboard off the shores of Milwaukee. He enlists the help of three specialists in order to help him carry out his plans, which include weapons expert Sean Shaughnessy (Erick West), sonar specialist Nedge Pepsi (Beaulah Peters), and former Navy recruit Dick Flynn (Daniel Long). The four head to the beaches of Lake Michigan to hunt down and destroy the monster, but even as the they begin to bond, it becomes increasingly clear that not only does Seafield have secrets, but he is not at all stable. This will eventually lead him deep into the murky waters to find and destroy the monster.
Arrow Video handles Lake Michigan Monster for its Blu-ray debut. Though the film was shot digitally, it has been heavily processed to appear like a piece of old film, which is mostly successful outside of obvious CGI elements. This means that there’s heavy and noisy “grain”, scratches, water damage, and other digtally recreated modifcations. It’s part of the film’s charm, but also makes it difficult to judge it on a technical level. That said, it’s a fine presentation that looks the part, even if it is artificial. Brightness and contrast levels are never a problem and grayscale has clear definition. Images sometimes appear soft then sharp, which is inherent to the film’s look. The bottom line is that it’s a crisp presentation of an aggressively stylized film.
The audio is presented in English 5.1 DTS-HD and English 2.0 LPCM with optional subtitles in English SDH. Despite the fact that the audio carries a few of the same qualities as the video portion, it’s presented in a more modern fashion in a surprisingly robust fashion. Panning and ambient activity are frequent on both tracks, giving each an enveloping quality. Dialogue exchanges are precise and sound effects have definite impact. The score and the song selection are also full-bodied, particularly the film’s theme song Dear Old Captain Seafield—a sea shanty offering plenty of fidelity. The 5.1 is the preferred option, but both tracks are solid.
The following extras are also included, all in HD:
- Cast and Crew Audio Commentary
- Drunk Audio Commentary
- Critics Audio Commentary
- Effects Breakdown (9:51)
- Dear Old Captain Seafield Music Video (5:15)
- Interview in a Cabin (9:03)
- Interview in a Bar (12:43)
- Interview by a Fire (23:58)
- L.I.P.S. Season One (22:13)
- L.I.P.S. Pilot (7:15)
- Arrow Video Channel Promotional Videos: Call to Action (1:51)
- Arrow Video Channel Promotional Videos: Filmmaking Guide (3:05)
- Arrow Video Channel Promotional Videos: Manufacturer’s Guarantee (0:52)
- Theatrical Trailer (2:04)
- Behind the Scenes Photos (87 in all – 14:30)
The first couple of audio commentaries feature Ryland Brickson Cole Tews, Daniel Long, Beaulah Peters, Erick West, and Mike Cheslik in conversation about the film as they watch it together. By the second go-round, they’re fairly inebriated, making for an even more laid back session. However, both tracks are entertaining and informative as to how the film was created. The last audio commentary features film critics and authors Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and Emma Westwood. Self-admitted (though reluctant) fans of the film, they discuss various monster movies while watching the film together in an upbeat and entertaining manner. The Effects Breakdown is a four quadrant, split-screen comparison of the original footage, various effects elements, and the final film. The Music Video is basically a stylized lyrics video. Interview in a Cabin is taken from the Fantasia: The Talkshow Youtube show, which features an interview with Ryland Tews and Daniel Long at the Fantasia International Film Festival from 2019. Interview in a Bar is taken from the Sirk TV Fest Trek Youtube show, which features the cast and crew at the Beloit International Film Festival in 2019. Interview by a Fire is taken from the Cinema Fireside podcast, which features an audio interview with Mike Cheslik from 2018. The L.I.P.S. videos are for Ozanzigwan: Agent of L.I.P.S., a web series by Ryland Tews and Mike Cheslik. The Behind the Scenes Photos further reveal just how low tech the film was to make. Also included is a 24-page insert booklet containing cast and crew information, Seeking the Lake Michigan Monster by Barry Forshaw, and transfer information. All of this content is contained within an amaray case with reversible artwork—new artwork on one side and the original poster art on the other—and housed within a slipcover with the aforementioned new artwork.
Lake Michigan Monster is not a traditional film, by any means. If anything, it’s experimental in the way that TV shows on Adult Swim like Off the Air and Dream Corp LLC continue to explore new boundaries through dark comedy, animation, and style. It probably won’t be for everybody, but it definitely won’t be forgotten. Arrow Video’s Blu-ray release offers an excellent presentation with a bevy of fine extras.
- Tim Salmons