What better way for this reviewer to start off than with Bryan Bertino’s (The Strangers) latest project, The Monster?
Straight out of the box, the two leading ladies deliver great impassioned powerhouse performances, with Mum Kathy played by Zoe Karzan and Lizzy played by rising star Ella Ballentine. Lizzy and her Mum head off on a road trip so Lizzy can live with her estranged father at a rather bizarre time of night. Navigating deserted wet roads, they hit what they think to be a wolf and assume it died instantly in the accident, but finding a tooth has them thinking otherwise. Completely stranded as the car has broken down and while waiting for the emergency services to arrive it soon becomes clear that they are not alone … and whatever is in the woods is very hungry… hmmm getting good!!
Like I mentioned, the performances are superb. There’s a great play on roles here too. The child has to take the lead early on in the film; the mother incapable of getting out of bed, let alone cleaning their home, and it seems for while that this is how the film will play out. But once they find themselves under attack, the mother’s instincts kick in and Lizzy you find reverts to being the child that she is. The strength she showed in dealing with her (sometimes) monstrous mother will come back to help her through the story.
But what makes the film so much different than you might have expected is that rather than treading on well trodden creture feature territory, it takes a good look at the monsters we face in our daily lives too. This is particualry the case when we are presented with a number of flashbacks revealing Lizzy and Kathy’s disquieting mother/daughter relationship. Kathy is a recovering alcoholic and her relationship with her daughter is as empty as the bottom of her bottles of whisky. We see the pair fighting, screaming and just plain laothing each other, (which is disturbingly well acted by both). At one point, Lizzy holds a knife to her passed out Mum’s throat whispering ‘I hate you’ over and over. And in another scene we witness Kathy’s constant swearing at Lizzy; stern language at the very least.
So what about the actual “Monster” itself? Although the monther-daughter relationship is the real monster, the very physically present monster menacing the stranded siblings is a seriously dark and menacing sharp-clawed kind of fellow that doesn’t take any prisoners. A well-designed creature designed to provide plenty of gore. Those expecting monsters, violence and gore will get their fair share of what they expect despite the fact the film is more of a slow burner than your usual monster fare, given the fact the core of the film focuses on the scarred relationship between the two leads.
Recapitulating, what did this reviewer make of The Monster as a whole? It’s not what you might expect based on the title of the film, but that works in the film’s favour as it ultimately means it caters for a much wider audience largely thanks to a premise which brims with suspense and scares. We absolultely recomend you catch The Monster when A24 release the film in theaters and On Demand on November 11. It’s also available now exclusively on DirecTV.