Film Review: “Monster Factory” — Tussling for Stardom
By Sarah Osman
Pro wrestling fans will undoubtedly love how Monster Factory takes them behind the scenes, but even those who have never watched the sport will find the docuseries intriguing.
Most pro-wrestling fans know that wrestling isn’t just a sport: it’s a theatrical event. Wrestlers have to, simultaneously, be able to act, perform gymnastics, and do martial arts while keeping their partners safe all at the same time. Wrestling itself is a dance, but a potentially dangerous one. Its moves are the result of careful choreography — one misstep can end in injury.
What most pro wrestling fans don’t know is just how difficult it is to become one of the mainstays on AEW or WWE. And that’s exactly what Monster Factory, Apple TV+’s new docuseries, is about: showing exactly what indie wrestlers go through to win the ultimate belt: a pro wrestling contract.
Monster Factory is a wrestling school in Paulsboro, New Jersey, where aspiring wrestlers come to train. The school itself has produced several successful pro wrestlers, including Sheamus, Raven, and Bam Bam Bigelow. Danny Cage, the owner and head coach of Monster Factory, is a former indie wrestler himself whose family didn’t support his own dreams. While at times he comes across as an asshole (even his own students admit that he can be an asshole), his harshness comes from a place of love because he understands just how difficult it is to break into the world of pro wrestling. He pushes his students, but he also encourages them and serves as a confidante. Deep down, Cage is a dad: he treats each of his students like his children, and his pride and belief in them are truly heartwarming.
While Cage may be the brains behind Monster Factory, the students are its heart. Each episode takes a deep dive into the personal lives of the school’s students, going into why they started wrestling in the first place and how wrestling helps them. Each story comes with its poignant moments: pupils talk freely about their struggles with grief and mental health and detail all that they had to sacrifice in order to pursue this dream. By removing “the mask,” so to speak, we learn who these people are when they’re not performing. And, because Monster Factory is a documentary — not an exploitative reality series — the vulnerability, emotions, and setbacks come off as strikingly real.
Cage knows that many watching Monster Factory won’t know the ins and outs of pro wrestling. From time to time he (along with some of the students) helpfully outlines the sport’s terminology and rules. The series doesn’t become too technical, but we interesting insights come along, such as what a “promo” is and how wrestlers go about creating one (“promos” are how wrestlers promote themselves to a crowd), the difference between faces (good guys) and heels (villains), and just how physically difficult it is to set up a wrestling ring. At the same time, the series also delves into the business side of pro wrestling. Students are expected to be very active on social media (a great way to get noticed) and we learn a bit about the complexities of auditioning for WWE.
Pro wrestling fans will undoubtedly love how Monster Factory takes them behind the scenes, but even those who have never watched the sport will find the series intriguing. That’s because the students and their dreams are not sensationalized, but treated sympathetically. Monster Factory proves that wrestlers are not monsters: they’re entertainers in training for stardom.
Sarah Mina Osman is a writer residing in Wilmington, NC. In addition to writing for the Arts Fuse, she has written for Watercooler HQ, Huffington Post, HelloGiggles, Young Hollywood, and Matador Network, among other sites. Her work was included in the anthology Fury: Women’s Lived Experiences in the Trump Era. She is currently a first year fiction MFA candidate at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. When she’s not writing, she’s dancing, watching movies, traveling, or eating. She has a deep appreciation for sloths and tacos. You can keep up with her on Twitter and Instagram: @SarahMinaOsman