Before we even get started on this review I should probably come clean and say that I am a huge fan of director Bryan Bertino’s work. 2008’s The Strangers is one of my all time favorite films and 2014’s Mockingbird left me thinking about it for days. The guys is good at what he does, and what he does is build dread to an almost unbearable level with no hope of relief. The Monster fits in very nicely with his previous two films in this regard, and once again Bertino delivers the goods with a tiny cast and powerhouse performances.
The story revolves around a caustic mother and daughter relationship. One where the mother is an alcoholic with an alcoholic boyfriend, shouts and curses are commonplace, and the girl is often left all day alone while benders are slept off. These scenarios are shown in bits and pieces of flashbacks as the mother carries her daughter to her father, whom she divorced at some point (they don’t really get into it too much but you can tell that the girl was had at a very young age). Point is, you’ve already got a toxic environment in the car and then things get worse. A car accident on a rain soaked, wooded road leaves the two stuck, slightly injured, and though they don’t know it yet, stalked by a creature in the woods.
The set up is pretty simple, and as an audience you feel trapped right alongside our protagonists. The tension works on two levels because you have a terrible mother who is struggling to do the right thing but doesn’t really know how, a very real monster who is hellbent on tearing flesh and limbs from bodies, and the never ending rain (which feels like it should have gotten billing because it’s certainly a major part of the movie). Is the monster allegorical of the terrible relationship? Maybe, but people die, and they die terribly, and I’m all about a good creature feature.
The Monster doesn’t reinvent the wheel, and you’ve honestly seen this movie before in some shape or form. What separates it from those other films is the genuine performances from Zoe Kazan as the mother and Ella Ballentine as the daughter. They are believable, you care about what happens, and it makes the monster seem so much more dangerous. As I mentioned earlier, Bertino uses dread like a paintbrush and spreads it into every shadow, every raindrop, and tree in the film. While not as ultimately satisfying as his previous two films, The Monster is a well made creature feature and has me more than ready for his follow up to The Strangers next year.