There’s something about bad mothers in horror films that send shivers down my spine. In Bryan Bertino’s The Monster, not only have we been given a hellish creature, but also a troubled mother, faced with protecting the daughter she has mistreated. The film follows Kathy (Zoe Kazan) and her child Lizzy (Ella Ballentine), whose car breaks down on a deserted woodland road in the middle of the night. In the woods, a terrifying monster awaits them. I know this sounds cliche, but believe me, this film is anything but.
It’s always difficult to sell a film that is light on plot, but the simplicity of The Monster works like a charm. Despite my initial assumptions, the film is actually an exploration of the relationship between Kathy and Lizzy. Their relationship is revealed largely through flashbacks, and we see how Kathy’s alcohol addiction has ruined their life.
The flashbacks portray Kathy as a truly horrible person. The director doesn’t hold back with his presentation of Kathy. She isn’t just a mediocre mother, she’s abusive and openly despises her child. She’s so fed up with her that giving up custody of her daughter to Lizzy’s father, seems like the best option.
So, during the night, Kathy drives Lizzie toward her new life, but their journey is suddenly disrupted when they hit an animal in the road. Left stranded, cold and frightened, something sinister waits for them in the dark. The creature in the woods is of unknown origin. We’re given no explanation of how it got there or what it wants. But the focus is on Kathy and Lizzy’s fight for survival, and I believe the monster is a reflection of Kathy’s monstrous addiction and her atrocious treatment of Lizzy.
Also, the film expresses the idea that we all have to face human monsters in the real world. Both Ballentine and Kazan deliver fearless performances, convincingly capturing the horror of their situation.
Like Bertino’s The Strangers (2008), his insistence on focusing on just two characters works very well. The viewer is positioned with these two characters throughout, which makes us put ourselves in their shoes. With nothing to defend themselves and the only place to hide is in the seats of the car, their dilemma appears inescapable, as the monster gets closer and closer to tearing them apart.
I had a great time watching The Monster. It does rely heavily on jump scares, but the creature is actually pretty scary. It’s a dark, slimy and hideous, and looks other-worldly. The Monster is a captivating film that I’m sure many viewers will watch through their fingers.
Independent horror films keep getting better and The Monster is another great addition to the horror catalogue. However, the film could have done with upping the pace at the beginning. All things considered, The Monster‘s originality stems from its simplicity, and the focus on character, which isn’t all that common in the horror genre.
It’s a blood-splattering adventure that’ll make you think twice about your next night-time road trip.
Quoted: “My mom tells me there’s no such thing as monsters. But she is wrong. They are out there, waiting for you … watching.”
Director: Bryan Bertino
Writer: Bryan Bertino
Stars: Zoe Kazan, Scott Speedman, Aaron Douglas, Ella Ballentine
Run Time: 91 min.
You might also be interested in my other reviews of horror films, which you can find here.