Friday, November 11, 2016

The Monster: Dysfunctional Mother-Daughter Horror

Kathy is the sort of alcoholic chaos-addict Dr. Drew always warns us about. Unfortunately, she is also a mother. She has never provided much support to her increasingly disgusted daughter Lizzy. Without question, her mother is the last person Lizzy can rely on during a crisis, but Kathy is all she has when a strange creature starts stalking them in Bryan Bertino’s The Monster (trailer here), which opens today in New York.

This road trip was supposed to be the last Kathy saw of Lizzy for the foreseeable future. She either lost custody to her infinitely more responsible ex-husband or simply gave up on mothering. Lizzy has mixed feelings on the subject, but she is obviously still hurt. While driving through a wooded back road, Kathy hits a wolf, who was running for his life. Frankly, she really just put him out of his misery, but she shattered her axle in the process.

Obviously, whatever was chasing it, will now shift its attention to the stranded mother and daughter. It is hard to say exactly what sort of monster it is, but it certainly is evil looking. It is also quite methodical when hunting its prey.

There is a temptation to interpret the monster as a metaphor and perhaps even a psychological projection of all the domestic tribulations endured by Lizzy, but the monster in rendered with too much detail and Bertino gives us too vivid a sense of the dank dark woods to support such readings. Regardless, The Monster is sinister and moody in ways that are unusual for a horror movie.

Looking like a dead-ringer for Juno Temple, Zoe Kazan (granddaughter of Elia) is a frightfully convincing self-destructive parental basket case. After only five minutes, we are already prepared to throw her to the slimy, slobbering predator, but you could argue that is the sign of a potent performance. Arguably, Ella Ballentine is even more powerful as Lizzy. You can just see the emotional damage compounding for her in scene after scene. Obviously, The Monster was filmed in Canada, because Scott Speedman duly turns up in a nothing throwaway cameo as Lizzy’s dad, as per the Canadian Scott Speedman protectionist regulations.

Ballentine and Kazan are a remarkable pairing, generating no end of sparks and wincing. However, The Monster is a different sort of horror film, more in line with what Rod Blackhurst’s Here Alone promised but failed to deliver. It is not the sort of movie you would watch over a pizza with your meathead buddies (Zombies with Tony Todd would better suit). Bertino could have safely cut some of the frequent character-revealing flashbacks, but it still should impress sophisticated genre fans. Recommended for horror connoisseurs who appreciate its stark psychological dimensions, A Monster opens today (11/11) in New York, at the Village East.