Nathan Ballingrud doesn’t know yet what Monsterland, the new Hulu horror anthology based on his short story collection North American Lake Monsters, will be like.
“I haven’t seen it yet,” Ballingrud says by phone from his home in Asheville. “I saw a lot of the dailies while they were making it, but I’ll get to see the finished product when everyone else does.”
Monsterland, whose eight-episode first season drops on Friday, October 2, adapts several of Ballingrud’s short stories alongside original tales by other writers that hew closely to the themes of Ballingrud’s work.
Each episode, named for the city and state where it takes place, combines supernatural elements with the everyday horrors of human nature. The pilot, “Port Fourchon, LA,” based on Ballingrud’s story “You Go Where It Takes You,” focuses on an impoverished single mother (Booksmart’s Kaitlyn Dever) who encounters a seeming serial killer (Jonathan Tucker of Kingdom). But the real horror is less about whether she’ll wind up dead than the frustrations of her limited options and her conflicted feelings about her unruly child.
Other episodes cover similar morally ambiguous, supernaturally tinged situations, with a diverse cast that includes Taylor Schilling (Orange Is the New Black), Kelly Marie Tran (Star Wars), Mike Colter (Luke Cage), and many others.
Ballingrud says that when he was writing the original stories, the idea that “we’re all compromised people” was in his head.
“Sometimes people who come from a decent place can be led or stumble into kind of desperate and dark actions, and it doesn’t always mean that the person is evil,” he says. “It just means that maybe they’ve made some bad choices; maybe the circumstances of their life are such that the choice that they make, which seems evil, makes sense to them, even if it’s a kind of deranged sense. It’s based in the notion that the potential for evil is in everybody.”
Ballingrud is credited as a consulting producer on the series, which comes from Annapurna Pictures, which previously adapted another of Ballingrud’s stories for the 2019 film Wounds with Armie Hammer, Dakota Johnson, and Zazie Beetz. (That film’s director, Babak Anvari, serves as an executive producer on Monsterland, with the series itself overseen by screenwriter Mary Laws of The Neon Demon and TV’s Succession.)
“It was an eye-opening experience working in the writers’ room, listening to them talk about the stories and take them apart and reconfigure them for a visual medium—like learning a whole new set of tools,” Ballingrud says. “It’s opened up new ways of thinking about stories, in terms of how I might approach a scene, whether I’d want to do something with less dialogue or ways to express action that might be more visual than going inside the characters’ heads.”
Though Ballingrud, who’s just finished his next novel, says he’s not sure if what he learned during his undergraduate days at UNC-Chapel Hill affected his writing (“I was a very confused and unfinished person”), he praises the N.C. literary scene and says the Asheville area “deeply affects my imagination.”
“Just the fact that you can still get in your car and drive for about an hour and find places that seem almost primeval, I find that really invigorating and reassuring,” he says. “That idea that the dark wood is real, and it’s not far away from my window, is just so cool.”
Comment on this story at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Support independent local journalism. Join the INDY Press Club to help us keep fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle.