The Monster (2016)
The Monster (2016)

Genre: Horror Running Time: 1 hr. 31 min.

Release Date: October 6th, 2016 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Bryan Bertino Actors: Zoe Kazan, Ella Ballentine, Aaron Douglas, Christine Ebadi, Marc Hickox, Scott Speedman

 


 

“M

om tells me there’s no such thing as monsters …” begins 10-year-old Lizzy (Ella Ballentine), narrating almost too closely to Newt’s famous line from “Aliens.” Her normal routines are stressful, as she has to clean up beer bottles from the night before and wake her immature mother, Kathy (Zoe Kazan), from a booze-addled slumber. Kathy appears not more than a few years older than her daughter, which is only exaggerated by Lizzy having to behave more like an adult than the adult in the family. “You’re too old for a lot of things.”

Once Kathy is fully awoken, the pair set off down the road for a lengthy trip (that takes them through Arlington), which is supposed to end with Lizzy staying – perhaps permanently – with her father. But around midnight, as the rain starts to pour heavily on a deserted road under construction, their tire blows out. When the car spins out of control, they hit something in the road, which in its crumpled, bloody, hairy form, resembles a wolf. “Hey, it’s alright. Be brave.”

“There are lots of things that hide in the woods.” After an ambulance and a tow truck are dispatched, Kathy and Lizzy settle down to wait. Somber piano key strikes accompany them as flashbacks fill in a bit of history, chronicling Kathy’s poor choices concerning alcohol and men, and her inability to raise a child when she can barely care for herself. Interestingly, fear comes not only from the possibility of lurkers in the night, but also from people showing up. Although tow truck driver Jesse (Aaron Douglas) turns out to be a normal, rather helpful guy, there are a few seconds during the introductions of every background role that pose potential frights. It’s a testament to the filmmaking style when the littlest of things can provide shivers.

Writer/director Bryan Bertino (“The Strangers”) once again creates a lot from nothing. The sets are limited, the cast is rarely more than just the mother and daughter, and the actions are infrequently out of the ordinary. The simple disappearance of characters, the onslaught of rain, ominous music, and isolated protagonists are enough to allow audience imaginations to run wild. Even the editing is subtle and unobtrusive. The atmosphere accounts for the majority of the trepidation; with clever shots, plenty of darkness, and the intermittent downpour, the environment is scary all by itself – even before the monster shows up.

“I don’t know what to do!” There are moments of gore and brief glimpses of the creature, but the less the film shows the more effective it becomes. Without resorting to extensive special effects or elaborate attack sequences, the picture maintains a relentless dread; the tension is ceaseless, even when almost nothing is happening. A significant portion of this comes from a sense of helplessness, especially from the child’s point of view – being unable to control her mother, let alone the nemesis waiting to turn them into a meal. It’s actually the scenes with clear views of the monster that decrease the suspense; the scares are most prominent when they’re from the utterly unknown – when a level of uncertainty surrounds the threat.

Unfortunately, toward the climax, the timeline grows more complex, as if a byproduct of having shown the titular carnivore too clearly. This results in cheaper thrills, though the mother/daughter relationship at the heart of the film remains absorbing, thanks to convincing performances and tight pacing (and perhaps some metaphorical confrontations) – even if the conclusion leaves a lot to be desired. At least the decision to use practical man-in-a-suit effects proves to be far better than CG alternatives.

– Mike Massie

  • 5/10