Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Monstrous, Starring Christina Ricci

Horror movies hate the 1950s. It was a time of stability and economic growth. What a nightmare. Thank goodness the last few years have been nothing like that. Unfortunately, that is the decade Laura Butler is living in, or at least a stylized version of it. The going was already tough for her, after she left her abusive husband, with their withdrawn son, Cody. Then she starts to suspect a mysterious supernatural something is out to get her son in Chris Sivertson’s Monstrous, which releases this Friday in theaters and on-demand.

It is supposed to be the 1950s, but there is something too conspicuously off for viewers to accept the world as it is presented. Butler’s sun dresses are a little too perfect and her forced cheer is a little too desperate. In the aftermath of her husband’s latest violent episode, Butler fled with Cody, starting over in a vaguely Southern small town. Somehow, she lined up a new job, new house, and a new school with remarkable efficiency. Their rental is even furnished, but one of the books on the shelf looks like
Inflation: A Worldwide Disaster, by Irving Friedman, published in the early 1970s. Don’t blame the art department for that. Blame Sivertson, who let my attention wander.

Initially, Cody was terrified of lady-creature in the nearby lake, but soon he is talking to her like an old imaginary friend.
 Logically, that starts to terrify Butler. As Cody becomes even more anti-social, she become increasingly distraught.

Honestly, it gets tiresome to always be so far ahead of a film.
Monstrous largely feels like parts of Miss Meadows re-edited into Jacob’s Ladder (and Miss Meadows wasn’t so great to begin with). These days it is streaming series like Severance and Shining Girls that deliver genuine surprises, while far too many films merely recycle elements.

Still, you can see why Christina Ricci agreed to play Butler. She goes all-in, conveying a mother’s anxiety and the cracks in her psyche with ferocious commitment. Ricci is very good, but she is almost entirely on her own (although it is nice to see Colleen Camp turn up as her nasty landlady).

Regular genre viewers will probably guess exactly what is going on here within the first fifteen minutes, if not sooner. That is a problem. The creature effects are pretty good, but they have to be in-service of a compelling story. Ricci and her character both deserved a better one. Not recommended,
Monstrous opens Friday (5/13) in LA, at the Laemmle NoHo 7.