Review: THE MONSTER
I was fully expecting to review this one for our sister site, werewolves.com, but I decided it is a better fit for this one. I’ll explain why momentarily. First let me say that I had been waiting with much anticipation for the video release of this movie. It received stellar reviews during its film festival and then limited theatrical runs, and I knew I would love it. With a premise like that, how could I not? What is this premise, you ask? A mother and daughter on a road trip through the middle of nowhere have an accident and become stranded along a lonely stretch of road at night. And there’s a monster. It’s as simple as that. Is THE MONSTER, then, a hokey good time, a cheese-fest? After all, it sounds silly, doesn’t it? No, it sounds SIMPLE. The premise is simple. But is it SERIOUS? As freakin’ cancer, it’s serious. The pace is not slow, but deliberate, and the film masterfully amps up the tension inch by excruciating inch. Even the occasional breaks, taking the form of flashback scenes, offer no real relief, because you know you’re going to be returning to that crashed car at the edge of the woods and that the Monster will be waiting for you. This flick is pure, unrelenting terror. It is a masterpiece of a Horror film. Hell, it’s a damn masterpiece, period.
How does one go about creating such bloody excellence from so simple a foundation? You start by casting good actors, and in this case the two leads, Zoe Kazan as the mother and Ella Ballentine as the daughter, are so damn good it physically hurts to watch them. They are REAL. In a review I penned, or keyboarded, this week for the aforementioned werewolves.com, I lamented that genre pictures and performances go unappreciated by the Oscars and the mainstream in general. Whoever wins the award for best actress at the Oscars this year, her performance won’t—CAN’T—be any better than those given by Kazan and Ballentine. And whatever movie wins best picture will most assuredly not be in any way superior to THE MONSTER. Yes, this film is THAT DAMN GOOD.
AS for the Monster itself, it is refreshing to see writer/director Bryan Bertino (who gave us the magnificent THE STRANGERS a few years back) opt for practical effects instead of CGI. The bat-like (told you I’d explain why the movie needed to be on the vampires site) beast looks good, and by “good” I mean terrifying, onscreen; Bertino also prudently follows the rule about not showing your monster too soon or too often, so as to maintain its effect. Sure, there is deeper stuff at work here. The Monster is metaphorical as well as literal. It can be appreciated on more than one level; which is one of the reasons why the picture is so powerful. But grown-up Monster Kids like me will be positively giddy over the creature itself, and the movie’s surface reality as a monster-in-the-woods film.
Enjoy THE MONSTER as a thrill-ride, then. Enjoy it as a family Drama. Enjoy it as a perfect example of the moviemaking craft. I can’t recommend a finer example of the latter. This one delivers the goods.