Ocean City Monster Building directed by Chris Lane examines the question: How much can a position of power control what remains hidden behind the scenes - even after one dies?
Sally Lambert returns home from grad school to deal with her father’s sudden death. Given the nature of the case and the father’s previous political position of mayor, Detective Pierre is brought in from out of town to investigate. It is through initial questioning by Pierre that Sally is made aware of her father being found dead in the backseat of his car with a local 15-year-old girl. This detail spurs a whirlwind of conflict throughout the town and its suspects, especially for the mother of the 15-year old, Amy Miller, who will stop at nothing to uncover what truly happened to her daughter. With tensions rising, the web of the investigation gets increasingly weaved throughout the city and its residents. Detective Pierre must deal with interference from district Sheriff Jonathan White while chasing leads and uncovering secrets. Sally Lambert must reconcile with her past as moments of her adolescence are brought to the limelight. Both Detective Pierre and Sally Lambert have to try to make sense of this peculiar town with their outside perspective as they wrestle for the truth.
This film is not your typical crime drama or murder mystery. Of course there are unexpected twists and turns, but the shifting focus of the story goes against the ordinary. Where most murder or crime narratives center on who did it and how, building to a satisfying but often unrealistic picturesque conclusion, Ocean City Monster Building displays the frustration and unanswered questions that surround real life investigations. As a viewer, we are given information at the same time as the characters, instead of being given stereotypical foreshadowing clues before those involved in the story itself. Similarly, the film concentrates on the aftermath of the deaths, rather than scrutinizing over what happened leading up to the killings. This offers the film a unique angle as it creates space for the audience to observe the surrounding effects on the townspeople, and how those effects in turn cause the mystery to come to a head.
The mood of the town in which the film takes place is “sleepy”, calling attention to how the secrets of the community lie dormant below the surface. These mysteries remain swept under the rug until the death of the former mayor and 15-year old girl compel the villagers to acknowledge the truth of what has been occurring in their own backyards. This notion of the town being lethargic in its recognition is reinforced by Lane’s directorial choice to juxtapose slow moving, quiet scenes with fast-paced, forceful ones. The contrast between these two types of segments exhibits the jolt this investigation has put on the town while simultaneously illustrating how facets of the quaint, domestic lifestyle override the detective’s searches and queries.
Ultimately, the film probes the issue of the exploitative and abusive nature of power, particularly when it is in the hands of the law - whether that be local enforcement or government offices. The narrative explores what happens when certain secrets are preferred kept out of the light, and how far some would go to keep information confidential rather than make reparations and address the truth. But it also faces the issue of those who fight these wrongs in society, and how exasperated that process of fighting against the majority can make oneself. The film is disquieting in its tranquility and gripping in its premise as viewers watch the story unfold before their eyes, leaving food for thought in its wake.
Ocean City Monster Building screens at the Spring 2023 New Jersey Film Festival on Saturday, February 4. The film will be Online for 24 Hours and In-Person at 7PM in Voorhees Hall #105/Rutgers University, 71 Hamilton Street, New Brunswick, NJ. To buy tickets go here.
For General Info on the Film Festival click on this link: https://newjerseyfilmfestivalspring2023.eventive.org/welcome