Director – Bryan Bertino
Cast – Zoe Kazan, Ella Ballentine, Aaron Douglas
Release Year – 2016
Reviewed by John of the Dead
The Monster is the newest film from writer/director Bryan Bertino. After succeeding with The Strangers (albeit rumors he stole the idea from French film Them), I was disappointed in his sophomore effort, Mockingbird. This flick intrigued me due to its creature feature aspect as well as a psychological element that comes into play. I was sure it would be better than his previous effort, and it was. Is it as good as The Strangers? Not if you ask me. It has its moments where the film excels, especially with the creature horror, but in the end The Monster is a mostly-positive experience that almost makes it over the hump to be a recommended film.
The divorced Kathy and her teenage daughter Lizzy must embark on a late night road trip to reunite Lizzy with her father. When a minor accident leaves them stranded on a deserted road, they must confront a terrifying creature lurking within the shadows of the surrounding woods.
For my entire life I have been a sucker for creature features, so I was pretty stoked to see Bryan Bertino’s crack at one. The story kicks off with a hard look into the dynamic of Kathy’s relationship with Lizzy. Simply put, Kathy is a terrible mother who, at times, has emotionally and even physically abused her daughter. Drugs and alcohol are apparently to blame for this behavior, but nonetheless – Lizzy leaving to be with her father should be a good thing. It doesn’t take long for them to hit the road, and time constraints (because her mother is lazy and unreliable) force them to have to drive during night hours. The crash occurs 14 minutes in, so the flick moves at a brisk pace. They call for help and both a tow truck and ambulance are sent to their remote location. Lizzy can sense that something is not right, and that their crash, which occurred while trying to avoid hitting a critically maimed wolf, was not a stroke of bad luck. We get our first taste of creature action about 34 minutes in, and don’t think for a second that the ambulance and tow truck will be successful at helping the stranded girls. As the creature chips away at their chances of surviving the night, the one positive is that it forces Kathy to stand up and be a mother to her daughter. They have nowhere to run except for the woods that they are of course unfamiliar with, and the creature’s physical advantage would leave them sitting ducks. There is, however, an element that needs to be addressed here, and as you view the film you’ll see it coming yourself. It is possible that none of this is real, and is a product of years of abuse stemming from her mom’s alcoholism. At times you will catch Lizzy saying things that could be metaphorical for her mom’s substance abuse serving as the real monster. This is a decision that you will need to make yourself, as I don’t feel there is a clear-cut answer. I am glad to say that this added element of psychological horror does not take away from the creature-feature aspect. Bertino writes in plenty of creature action and gives us as many deaths as he can.
Bertino’s direction is fair, with him excelling at the one element that matters most to me – the creature horror. I enjoyed the look of the beast and the mannerisms it displayed. The first few glimpses were teases, but about halfway through we get a full look and it’s full-frontal from then on out. There is a decent amount of gore, which was necessary given there aren’t many characters and therefore there aren’t many kills. Let’s just say that the majority of characters are killed here. His atmosphere is decent, and the location used is fair. 90% of the film takes place in this one location, and it provided enough shadowy areas for the creature to lurk from. I was a little disappointed in the musical score, which was minimal (not a bad thing) and never haunting (a bad thing). The character play between Kathy and Lizzy is decent, but neither really excelled at grasping the viewer. While I felt for Lizzy’s terrible family situation, she wasn’t an engaging character. To top it all off, the biggest negative is the film is never scary. While yes I did enjoy the creature and the carnage it provided, the execution of the attack scenes lacked punch. I was hoping to leave the film looking like Amanda Nunes’ opponents, but that was not the case.
Overall, The Monster has its moments but in the end it’s a mediocre effort. It’s a step up from Bertino’s previous film, but aside from some decent creature horror there’s no reason to rush into seeing this.