Review: “The Monster” Features Two Wonderful Performances, But Feels a Little Too Familiar



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Posted November 18, 2016 by

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Horror audiences will quickly recognize the metaphorical horror, in Bryan Bertino’s new creature feature “The Monster”. The manifestation of emotional pain into something deadly and horrific has been done recently, in films like “Under the Shadow” and “The Babadook”. Even Bertino himself has tread these waters before, showing the breaking down of a relationship coincide with a home invasion, in his 2008 debut film “The Strangers”. Unlike his first film though, “The Monster” is much more concerned with the fractured bond between mother and daughter, than the vicious things that stalks them and the violent terror that accompanies it.

Kathy (Zoe Kazan) is a troubled, young mother. Suffering from both alcoholism and an abusive relationship with her boyfriend (Scott Speedman), she largely neglects the well-being of her wise-beyond-her-years daughter Lizzy (Ella Ballentine). Kathy shows Lizzy more disdain than love, treating her like an inconvenience and ignoring her child’s pleas for attention. Lizzy feels a similar resentment, having to not only care for herself, but also having to be the adult, tending to her hung over mother.

the-monster-2On the way to take Lizzy to her father’s house (probably for good), they get into a car accident, on a dark, deserted road, when a wolf jumps out in front of the car. Stuck waiting for assistance, the two of them soon realize  that they are being hunted, by something that lurks in the pitch black, rain-drenched woods. The mother and daughter will have to put their painful past aside, if they hope to survive the night.

Like I said before, Bertino is doing something pretty familiar here. Blending a damaged relationship with horror is tricky to get right, and for the most part Bertino is up to the task. Armed with two powerful, emotionally raw performances from his leading ladies, and some splendid cinematography by Julie Kirkwood, “The Monster” is full of tension and gripping scenes. The only issue is that this is a horror film where the horror elements are much less effective than the emotional drama.

Even with some really cool creature effects, and a haunting score, the arrival of the actual monster in “The Monster” brings with it some pacing issues and interrupts the beautifully crafted drama that is the film’s beating heart. I have often lamented interspersed flashback scenes, in horror films. They typically stunt tension, and have me rolling my eyes waiting to get back to the good stuff. Here, though, it is the opposite. The flashback sequences were some of the film’s best, and I found myself eagerly awaiting the next one while watching over drawn out “The monster is about to pop up out of nowhere” moments.

What it really comes down to is that “The Monster” is a terrific relationship drama that is spliced with a so-so horror film. There are enough positives for me to recommend it. Zoe Kazan and Ella Ballentine’s performances alone are worth the rental fee. I just wish that Mr. Bertino had left the monster out altogether and done a gritty, indie drama.





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