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‘The Monster’ (review)

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 Produced by Bryan Bertino, Adrienne Biddle,
Aaron Ginsburg, William Green, Richard Suckle

Written and Directed by Bryan Bertino
Starring Zoe Kazan, Ella Ballentine,
Scott Speedman, Aaron Douglas

 

Writer/director Bryan Bertino made a smash debut – and was an overnight horror fan darling – for the downbeat, and very effective, home invasion flick, 2008’s The Strangers.

Anticipation was high for his follow-up – which finally arrived two years ago with no fanfare whatsoever. (For the record, the film was Mockingbird, an apparently blah found footage thriller that I missed.  Hell, I didn’t know it existed).

His third feature, The Monster, may not be quite the minor classic many consider The Strangers to be, but it’s more than worthwhile for monster movie fans.

Zoe Kazan (excellent) plays a ne’er-do-well single mother; a chain-smoking alcoholic who also has terrible taste in men. Her daughter, Lizzy (Ella Ballentine, also excellent), and her mom have what might be charitably termed a contentious relationship. Lizzy’s decided she wants to stay with her dad and stepmom for a while.  Her mom knows that Lizzy most likely won’t choose to come back.

On the drive to Lizzy’s dad’s house, they have an accident and their car is unable to drive any further.  They call 911 and are told a tow truck and ambulance will find them on the basically deserted street.

Unfortunately, it seems they’re not alone on this tree-lined stretch of road.

What I liked about The Monster is the way Bertino takes the time to set up the mother/daughter relationship.  In fact, for the first third or so, The Monster feels like a straightforward indie drama.

Even after the titular creature starts making their difficult lives much, much worse, The Monster cuts away from the present-day horror to flashbacks that flesh out their rocky relationship.  This works surprisingly well, and makes the reach for emotion near the end feel earned.

I was surprised that while watching a bloody monster movie I found myself choked up, during one scene in particular.  This scene – you’ll know it when you see it – is also nicely edited, this time with flashbacks AND flashforwards.

As for the monster itself, it’s a really neat old-school, man-in-a-suit creature.  I was pleasantly surprised that Bertino had the courage to show the monster fully; however, since there are a few lingering shots where the phoniness shines through, perhaps Bertino should’ve been a tad LESS courageous.

Still, it’s a minor complaint. The only real complaint I have with the movie is that as smart as it is in displaying the lead characters’ relationship, it really drops the ball with some of the minor characters’ actions.

There are moments during the film I can imagine watching with a typical Saturday night crowd at a theater in Philly in the 80s, wherein the crowd would be screaming at the stupidity of some of the characters.

Too bad, because The Monster could otherwise have been a minor classic, à la The Strangers.  As is, though, it’s a solid little creature feature that may actually bring a tear to your eye.

The Monster is available now exclusively on DirectTV and
arrives in theaters and On Demand on November 11th.

 

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