The Monster Review

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A mother-daughter relationship goes bump in the night.

Although it is an imperfect film, The Monster features a fantastic setup for a horror movie – a mother and daughter who don’t get along find themselves on a back road on a dark and stormy night as their car breaks down. Soon enough, noises emanate from the surrounding woods, some sort of nefarious beast is clearly nearby, and help is still far away. Written and directed by Bryan Bertino, The Monster does indeed start off quite well, but it never lives up to the scenario it establishes.

The mother here, Kathy, is played by Zoe Kazan. She is a divorced alcoholic who has promised to bring her daughter, Lizzy (Ella Ballentine), to Lizzy’s father’s house. It is a trip which, much to Lizzy’s upset, starts hours later than it is supposed to due to Kathy’s hangover. Making the whole thing that much more somber, Kathy surmises that Lizzy has no intention of ever coming back to their house, that Lizzy intends to stay with her father until she reaches adulthood.

While this may upset Kathy, she understands it. Although Lizzy is young—a tween or young teen—she has had to pick up the slack of her mother’s failed parenting. It is Lizzy who cleans the house, Lizzy who wakes her mom up in the morning, Lizzy who seemingly does everything. Kathy is not so far gone that she doesn’t recognize this either and she hates herself for how much Lizzy does, and is more than a little angry at Lizzy for it as well.

In the best element of The Monster, this story comes out in a series of flashbacks as the women are stuck in the car. These flashbacks are the movie at its most raw and brutal. No amount of evil creature in the woods is quite as terrifying as these two people who should have the most loving of relationships cursing at each other and declaring their hatred for one another in a way that is significantly more serious than just teen angst.

But, there is an evil creature in the woods. Moreover, that creature seems to have prompted Kathy’s tire blowout and what may have also been a collision with a wolf. At minimum, there is a bloody wolf lying in the middle of the road post-breakdown.

Although Kathy does make the utterly inexplicable horror movie choice to take the road no one else goes on anymore, she is not so foolish to leave her cell phone at home. Even so, the mother and daughter are off the beaten path and a wreck on the nearby highway delays the arrival of a tow truck and ambulance.

The Monster is just that sort of movie – for every smart thing it does, it can’t help but offer up one or two dumb things. Lizzy and Kathy are hyper-aware of their surroundings except for when the presumed dead wolf mysteriously disappears from right in front of their car. At one point they actually see the evil creature that is haunting them and then, although Kathy and Lizzy are looking right at it, miss seeing the fact that it leaves.

Bertino is less interested, it seems, in the evil creature tormenting the two main characters than he is in exploring their relationship. The women being stuck in the car, just the two of them, for an extended period allows for that exploration and both Kazan and Ballentine deliver moments that are heart-wrenching.

As long as the tale remains just the two of them in that car, it is utterly engrossing and any of the more silly elements can be forgiven. However, that all falters as the movie progresses, the characters leave the close confines of the car, and help does finally arrive. The creature winds up looking distinctly like a human in a monster suit, and the people who are supposed to help Lizzy and Kathy are less than useful.

One reading of the film would turn the evil creature into an allegory for alcoholism, working the wolf as well as the tow truck and ambulance into the argument. Although that slant may initially add more of an explanation for what takes place, it winds up trivializing both the creature and the disease (and sounds a little silly). And yet, as the film offers up no insights into the creature whatsoever, it is an inescapable reading, whether one subscribes to it or not.

The Verdict

In its best moments, The Monster examines the heartbreak on both sides of a mother-daughter relationship, looking at the ways two people can hurt each other both intentionally and unintentionally. It is atmospheric and can be quite stressful to watch. In its worst moments, The Monster has an unconvincing baddie and two lead characters who magically stop paying attention to their surroundings when it matters most. Whichever way one chooses to look at it, Bertino’s film is a great setup but one which doesn’t move forward from that setup in interesting ways.

Editors’ Choice

 

 

 
Published at Mon, 21 Nov 2016 20:21:41 +0000

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