Movie Review: The Monster (2016)
The Monster (2016)
Director: Bryan Bertino
Cast: Zoe Kazan, Ella Ballentine, Aaron Douglas
Synopsis: A mother and daughter stranded on an isolated stretch of road find themselves stalked by a monster.
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Director Bryan Bertino’s casting of Zoe Kazan (It’s Complicated) as Kathy, a young mother struggling with alcohol addiction in The Monster, proves to be something of a master-stroke: not only is Kazan a very accomplished actor but, at the age of 33, she can pass for a much younger woman – one whose features are starting to show the first signs of wear after years of alcohol and substance abuse. One can imagine Kathy’s young daughter Lizzy (Ella Ballentine) arriving as an unplanned surprise sometime in her mother’s mid-teens, placing on pause the early stages of a life of hard partying, and fuelling perhaps an unspoken resentment that still simmers. They share a complex relationship, a spiky rotation of hugs and hisses, argument and reconciliation, and a role reversal that sees Lizzy, in The Monster’s opening scenes, clearing away the detritus of her mother’s latest binge with the resigned air of one who has done so many times before. But Lizzy wants to reclaim what remains of her childhood, and so her mother is driving her to her father’s house; it’s supposed to be for a few days, but both tacitly realise that the visit is likely to be a permanent one.
They drive through the night because Lizzy wants to wake up in her father’s house, but their journey is abruptly curtailed when they run over an animal on an isolated road during a heavy rainstorm. The impact immobilises the car, and leaves Kathy and Lizzy at the mercy of whatever creature was attacking the mangled carcass lying on the road in front of them. While one might expect such circumstances to push their strained relationship to breaking point, mother and daughter draw strength from one another as their situation grows increasingly perilous.
Following the success of The Strangers in 2008, Bertino appeared to lose his way a little with the found footage horror Mockingbird (2014) but he’s back on form with The Monster, a movie with the patience and nerve to devote almost as much screen time to Kathy and Lizzy’s complicated relationship as it does to the story’s horror elements. Doing so undoubtedly slows the pace of the film and dilutes the tension on occasion, but it also provides The Monster with more emotional depth than one would expect from a monster movie, and adds a metaphorical dimension to the nature of the beast that’s stalking them.
The Monster is a movie in which the physical beast that provides the movie with its title is secondary to the healing of Kathy and Lizzy’s fractured relationship. Although the movie has moments of horror – Bertino can get more mileage from a man being dragged beneath a breakdown truck by an unseen creature than many horror directors can wring from an entire movie – fans of conventional horror movies might find their patience tested by its slow, patient pace. And the film’s final act is undoubtedly damaged by some questionable character decisions and a reversal of Lizzy’s character which completes the story’s metaphorical aspect at the expense of its narrative one. For the most part, though, The Monster proves to be a refreshingly intelligent and textured addition to the genre.
(Reviewed 29th January 2017)