The Monster

02/22/2018 06:21

Film: The Monster

Year: 2016

Director: Bryan Bertino

Writer: Bryan Bertino

Starring: Zoe Kazan, Ella Ballentine and Aaron Douglas



I was turned on to this film from podcasts that I listen to. I believe buzz was coming from festival when it was showing. This also might be one of the first A24 films that I saw. I watched this I believe in prep for an end of year list as well. I’m now giving it a rewatch for the Creature Comforts podcast that I’m guesting on.

Synopsis: a mother and daughter must confront a terrifying monster when they break down on a deserted road.

This begins with Lizzy (Ella Ballentine) doing chores around the house. She hears an alarm going off and she goes into her mother’s room. Her mother is Kathy (Zoe Kazan). She gets her to wake up, but Kathy is fully ready. She is asking about a guy named Roy (Scott Speedman). Her daughter annoys her so she sends her out. What she was afraid of happens though, Kathy falls back asleep. We learn that she is no longer with the father of Lizzy. She is supposed to be going to see him and her mother is delaying that.

Kathy struggles with being forced to grow up, while also trying to cling to her childhood. Her mother isn’t helping. Lizzy has a stuffed animal that plays a song and this bothers her mother. We do see that Kathy feels bad about things that she has done. It is in the heat of the moment that she says things she doesn’t mean.

The two then finally hit the road. This is emotion as Kathy also reveals that her daughter won’t be coming back and gives her a watch that belonged to her grandmother. It then starts to rain when they hit a desolate stretch of highway. Kazan then loses control of the car and spins around. She comes to a stop while hitting a wolf in the process. When they wake up, Kathy is bloody and her wrist hurts. Lizzy calls for help and they’re told an ambulance and tow truck are on the way. It is going to be awhile.

Kathy cannot get out of her door. She forces her daughter to get out, despite her protests. She is afraid. Kathy checks out her door and it looks like something rammed them, explaining why they lost control. Lizzy notices wounds on the wolf as well that aren’t consistent with being hit by their car. She also finds a large tooth in it that doesn’t belong. They get back into the car to wait.

There could be something in the woods stalking them. There isn’t much they can do until help arrives. Being inside the car doesn’t offer as much protection as they think when what is lurking decides to attack.

That is where I’m going to leave my recap and introduction to the characters. Where I want to start is that this does do good things. We are getting an interesting combination of monster movie with a family drama mixed in. For the latter, I’m not saying we are getting a Hallmark movie. Kathy and Lizzy are living in a broken home. The former doesn’t seem like she can do it anymore. She loves her daughter. That comes through. I just don’t know if she was ready and it still looks like she is struggling with it. This brings in good heart with this dynamic.

That dynamic between Kathy and Lizzy is where I want to dive a bit deeper into. I’ve said that Kathy is too young to be an effective mother. There are moments where she is. She loves her daughter. She says hurtful things and cares more about herself though. On the other side, Lizzy loves her. She has grown to resent her mother as well. Lizzy has been forced to grow up much quicker than she should have as her mother is struggling with immaturity still. It made me feel bad when Kathy got mad at Lizzy for this singing stuffed animal. She is too old for it, but there has been a lot taken from her so I get it.

There is an interesting parallel with their current situation with this dynamic. I enjoy the setting a lot. They are on a desolate road, in between woods on both sides. There is no way they can walk to safety and I think that is something that helps with the tension. It is dark out. It would take too long to walk out and it is also raining. With their car being out of commission, they’re stuck. This becomes a coming-of-age film for Lizzy which I enjoyed seeing played out. I thought the ending was good as well. You could say that with everything she’s had to deal with, it prepared her for what she must do.

This wouldn’t work though without good acting. Kazan is attractive. Part of that is diminished when we see how bad she is at being not only an adult, but a mother. I think that as this ordeal plays out though, we see her evolve which I liked. Ballentine is the real star here though. She has a tough job at trying to be older than she is while clinging to her childhood. I felt bad for her but seeing her grow during the situation was enjoyable as well. The rest of the cast was good in support. I do want to give props to Chris Webb, who was the monster. I thought he was good as our creature.

All that is left to go into is filmmaking. First, this is shot well. The cinematography looks good. It feels wet and dreary. It is also isolated which builds tension. Along with this are the effects, which I thought were good. I believe there was CGI with the monster, but it was well done. Everything else seemed to be practical and I thought they looked good. The creature effects were solid. I was impressed there. It is kept to the shadows mostly, which helps. The blood and gore looked real. I thought it was a strong point for the film. Other than that, the soundtrack was fine without necessarily standing out. The sounds for the creature were solid as well, I wanted to give credit there.

In conclusion, this is a solid creature feature. The story elements are good. We have this drama between mother/daughter. How that plays into their ordeal is good. It could almost be read that the monster is a manifestation of their issues. I loved the setting as it helps to build tension. The two leads were good and the rest of the cast rounded it out for what was needed. This is also a well-made movie with the creature effects as a bright spot. If you want to see a creature feature with a bit more on the bone, then I’d recommend this one for sure.


My Rating: 8 out of 10