Starring Zoe Kazan, Ella Ballentine
What happened to Zoe Kazan’s career is not the most pressing question while watching The Monster. But you still have to wonder what happened to the writer/actress who seemed so promising back in 2012 with the lovely Ruby Sparks. The Monster is nothing more than a throwaway horror film, that feels more like experimental filmmaking for writer/director Bryan Bertino. His first film, The Strangers, made a mark with suspense and a terrifying situation. Here, nothing works, as Bertino tries to build suspense by drawing out a weak plot only to revel there isn’t much to sink your teeth into. Often the intelligence, or lack thereof, in script and on screen reaches a level zero as the scenario, characters actions and the actual monster of the film make no sense.
Kathy (Kazan) knows she is a bad mother. Struggling with alcohol and substance abuse, she understands this trip with her daughter Lizzy (Ballentine) will likely be the last time she sees her for a while. Eager to get to her father, Lizzy suggests they drive through the night. Rain, low visibility and a blowout strand the mother/daughter in the middle of nowhere. As they call 9/11 for help, they notice a dead wolf in the road and soon learn there is some unidentified monster lurking in the woods. “There are lots of things that hide in the woods,” Kathy says, not realizing she is scaring her young daughter even worse.
Can’t sustain any sort of suspenseful momentum because there are not enough reactionary moments for the characters
The opening titles deliver a passage from an old fairytale about the reality of monsters. The real monster in this film is found in the flashbacks as we see how Kathy has treated Lizzy. The two characters have little to say to each other beyond “what’s that” and “why”. Bertino often fills up that open space by showing us glossy wet leaves or darkened woods to feed the running time. “Stop making this into a thing,” Kathy scolds, as Lizzy’s fear begins to influence her own. It’s a short film, running 90 minutes, but feels longer due to the few scenes of action or plot movements, and long minutes of staring out the car window passing time. It gives the viewer plenty of time for bathroom breaks or to create your own commentary. As a bloody arm falls onto the hood of the car, you might wonder if they have driven right into Jurassic Park.
The Monster can’t sustain any sort of suspenseful momentum because there are not enough reactionary moments for the characters. Most horror movies have characters making moronic decisions, but here many of those are never explained and seem to run counter to common sense. It’s established very early on that this young girl is our protagonist, the mother must redeem herself and this bizarre, unexplained people eating demon monster is how she will do it. The lack of information in the script leaves the viewer detached from any sort of emotion or feeling towards any of the characters. This low budget genre film doesn’t cover any new ground and rarely even offers a reason to keep watching.
The lack of common sense, structure and story information makes this monster something to skip.