In 2008, writer/director Bryan Bertino scared the hell out of me (and millions of theatergoers everywhere) with the shocking home invasion film The Strangers. And while I didn’t fall head over heels for his follow-up effort, Mockingbird, as much as I did for his feature film debut, I thought the good far outweighed the bad on that project. Bertino’s latest, though, The Monster, is an absolute stunner in its execution; so simple yet relentless, with the film’s titular monstrosity becoming a metaphor for something much more than its unassuming title would otherwise suggest.
In The Monster, we meet Lizzy (Ella Ballentine), a young girl who has been forced to grow up a lot quicker than most kids her age due to her mother Kathy’s (Zoe Kazan) issues with alcohol abuse (and her poor choices in boyfriends don’t help matters, either). Kathy’s substance abuse and her volatile nature have caused a deep rift to grow between her and her daughter, who has had enough of playing the grown-up and wants to go live with her father in order to escape the hell that her mom has consistently put her through. During their road trip, Kathy hits a wolf on a remote road in the middle of nowhere, damaging her car and leaving her and Lizzy stranded. Little do they know that something much more dangerous is lurking in the woods, something ferocious that will stop at nothing to make these women its next meal.
Mother/daughter relationships are complicated at best. It’s something we’ve seen countless times in film and in other forms of media, but it’s something that I have a bit of personal experience with myself, which is probably a big reason why The Monster just hit me out of nowhere. For as much as The Monster is a great creature feature, it’s the film’s dramatic elements that make it such a standout effort from Bertino, as well as its co-stars, who both deliver powerful and emotionally-charged performances that keep The Monster compelling from beginning to end.
The creature itself, designed by Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff Jr. of ADI, Inc. is pretty cool, making for a threatening on-screen adversary to both Kathy and Lizzy. We don’t see a lot of him per say, due to the fact that Bertino keeps both the atmosphere and the look of The Monster shrouded in darkness (which is an effectively creepy choice since I spent most of the second half second-guessing every little shadowy movement), but there is a great fiery standoff moment between the beastie and Kazan’s character when we finally do get a decent look at their efforts, and I dug its gnarly appearance.
There’s no doubt that with The Monster, Bertino has confidently reestablished himself as a master of intimate horror with a creature feature that’s an emotionally charged and intricately crafted character study as well. Here’s hoping there’s more like The Monster in his future, because whenever Bertino turns the horror inwards like he does here or like he did with The Strangers, the results are both terrifying and terrific.
Movie Score: 4/5