Synopsis: A mother and daughter must confront a terrifying monster when they break down on a deserted road.
Release Date: November 11, 2016 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Writer/director Bryan Bertino has made a name for himself as one of the most exciting visionaries in the modern horror world. First, he terrified audiences with his simple-yet-effective The Strangers, then he confounded them with his surreal take on the found footage genre Mockingbird. Now, with The Monster, he explores a smarter, more psychological horror.
The Monster is about a young alcoholic mother named Kathy (Zoe Kazan from Ruby Sparks) and her capable little girl, Lizzy (The Captive‘s Ella Ballentine). While Kathy is driving Lizzy to her ex-husband/Lizzy’s father’s place, possibly for good, their car hits a wolf – or something – in the rain and the pair becomes stranded. Unfortunately for them, they aren’t alone; there is a horrifying monster lurking in the woods just outside of the car, watching and waiting for them to come out.
One of the things that made The Strangers so powerful was Bertino’s ability to make the audience feel empathy for the characters. The Monster is more of that. Much more. The first half of the movie is full of heartbreaking shots of Lizzy picking up empty beer bottles and emptying ashtrays after Kathy’s all-night benders, showing that the parental roles are reversed, the little girl actually being tasked with taking care of her mother. For a while, the audience actually finds itself wondering if the titular monster is symbolic instead of literal.
Then the second half hits, and the family drama that has been unfolding so carefully and deliberately turns into a full-on creature feature, with Kathy and Lizzy being forced to rely on each other to survive the attacks of the very real monster outside of the car. There may be more emotional carnage in the first half of The Monster, but the second half has all of the blood and guts.
It would be easy to dismiss The Monster as a schizophrenic two-in-one about a dysfunctional family trapped by a bloodthirsty beast (Cujo, anyone?). But Bertino’s skillful direction makes for a surprisingly thoughtful psychological thriller about monsters, both internal and external, and emotional performances from Zoe Kazan and Ella Ballentine turn the film into a vicarious experience as well as a voyeuristic and a visceral one. It’s a slow burner, never boring yet long-feeling, that ends with a bang, and then concludes on a whimper. But that’s also what The Strangers and (to a lesser extent) Mockingbird did, so that might be Bertino’s thing. It’s not a bad thing to have.
Although the monster in The Monster is pretty cool, the movie itself is not scary in a traditional way. As mentioned earlier, the actual monster doesn’t even show up until about halfway through or so. Predictably, the word monster then serves as much as a metaphor for the neglect and mistreatment that Lizzy suffers at the hands of her mother as it does a description of the eventual and inevitable beast. The Monster is frightening in a psychological sense, dealing with the deeply disturbing issues of addiction and abuse. Shown sparsely and sporadically, the monster itself is about as scary as a monster-in-the-woods can be, playing upon that fear of the unknown to which just about everyone can relate. As far as in-your-face scares go, The Monster is fairly lightweight, but there are more than enough unsettling abstract ideas in the film to compensate for it.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Bryan Bertino
- Producer(s): Bryan BertinoAdrienne BiddleAaron L. GinsburgWilliam GreenRichard Suckle
- Screenwriter(s): Bryan Bertino
- Cast: Zoe Kazan (Kathy)Elle Ballentine (Lizzy)Aaron Douglas (Jesse) Christine Ebadi (Leslie Williams)Scott Speedman (Roy)Chris Webb (Monster)
- Editor(s): Maria Gonzales
- Cinematographer: Julie Kirkwood
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer: Jennifer Stroud
- Casting Director(s): Ilona Smyth
- Music Score: tomandandy
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA