Following the acclaimed home invasion shocker The Strangers, and more recent sleeper hit Mockingbird, writer/director Bryan Bertino brings us The Monster, a chilling creature feature that pits a ferociously strong mother and daughter duo against two very different kinds of monsters: One being the titular creature itself and the other the relationship most toxic that said siblings share.
Zoe Kazan stars as Kathy, a divorced mother who takes her headstrong daughter Lizzy (Ella Ballentine) on an emergency late night road trip to see the girl’s father. Driving through deserted country roads on a stormy night, they suddenly have a startling collision that leaves them shaken but not seriously hurt. Their car, however, is dead, and as they try in vain to get help, it’s not long before they realise they are anything but alone on these desolate backroads.
With The Monster available now on DirectTV and releasing in theaters and on demand November 11th, CinemaChords caught up with Ella Ballentine to talk tackling such a tough role, both physically and mentally, at the tender young age of fifteen…
CinemaChords: Are you much of a horror buff? Was that something that attracted you to take on this role or were you much more intrigued by the more terrifying relationship you and your co-star, Zoe Kazan, share in the film?
Ella Ballentine: What’s funny about it really is that I didn’t actually know anything about the movie or the character when I auditioned. All I got were two scenes. Once I got the role, I was then finally sent the script. I read that and that was when I really knew what I’d got myself into. (laughs) But I was so happy and I thought it was totally kick-ass and so challenging. I was scared, but at the same time excited because I knew it would be such a cool adventure.
CC: Like I said, for me, the more horrifying “monster” in the film is your highly toxic relationship with your mother. It must have been demanding and distressing when it came to researching and getting into your character’s mindset.
EB: It was definitely very difficult because I had no way to relate to that kind of toxic relationship, especially between a mother and daughter. Basically, I collaborated with Zoe and the director, Bryan, and we talked about it a lot. Just talking to them helped me to get into the mood of it and get a sense of what it was all about and what the character has to go through. Also, working off of Zoe helped so much. She played it all so well so it was all really in the moment and how am I reacting to this person.
CC: And had Bryan already mapped out a back-story for you to work with or did you create that with Zoe and Bryan whilst preparing for the shoot?
EB: It was the three of us really, yeah. On multiple days, we visited each location and would rehearse certain scenes and we would all really collaborate. Aside from being the director, Bryan also wrote the script and it was really personal to him so he always had answers to our questions and he always answered everything in a very personal way. Just from the way he reacted to our questions and how he answered us affected me and made me understand exactly what he wanted in each scene.
CC: As you are all of 15 years young, I imagine most of the cast and crew were very protective of you, particularly given the fact you had to play such a psychologically scarred character.
EB: Everybody was. Everyone was so sweet. The entire cast and crew were always making sure we were all good. I mean, it was such a mentally and physically exhausting role to play because of all the screaming and crying and really serious and deep scenes. But everyone was always checking up on me to make sure I was good and happy and had enough food and water. Everyone was really so good.
CC: The filming conditions must have been just as gruelling as much of the film was shot on dirt roads in the middle of the night.
EB: It was definitely gruelling. It was mostly night shoots and we had pouring rain on us which was freezing. It was in the forest too so there were lots of bugs and mosquitoes around. Although it was such a hard environment to work in, I would say that it definitely helped the performance because it made the harshness become such a reality. So the gruelling environment was very helpful actually. (laughs)
CC: When the audience does get to see the titular monster, things do get pretty gruesome and the effects are as practical as they come.
EB: The monster they created was so, so interesting. It looked so real. The people who created it were just so WOW! I remember seeing it for the first time and they were adding all the slime to it and that definitely helped my performance. I was able to look at the actual monster and how freaking scary it was. That really helped on my behalf.
CC: To accentuate the toxic relationship with your mother in the film, we are shown a series of flashbacks. Was it a challenge to keep your character’s personality in check throughout the film given that the story tos and fros in time?
EB: We actually filmed the flashbacks first and that was helpful because whenever you start a movie shoot, the first week is always the most difficult just because you’re so tired. In that sense it was pretty nice that we didn’t have to jump straight into night shoots. But it was also very helpful to get all these flashbacks going first to build the relationship between the mother and daughter before we jumped into how they are presently in the film.
CC: Exploring such a dark character, I’m guessing it served as a bit of a wake-up call to you and you must have taken a lot with you once filming wrapped.
EB: I think what I really learned in this film was about myself as an actor. When I first read the script, I was talking with my Mum and saying, “I don’t know if I can really do this because it’s so intense.” But I really learned a lot about my capabilities as an actor and how an experience like this can be very collaborative with the director and the other actors, so yeah, it was a really great learning experience as a whole for me.
A24 will release The Monster in theaters and on demand on November 11. The film is also available now exclusively on DirecTV. In the meanwhile, we’ll leave you with the latest trailer to whet your appetite and you can read our review of the film right here…