There is a point not long ago that it seemed that the possibility that torture porn all other forms of horror movies. The lamentable trend that started with such horrendous clicks such as ‘Saw’ and ‘Hostel’ would replace any semblance of a plot and coherent story here with a mindless string of visceral scenes displaying more blood, entrails, and means of inflicting senseless agony than Tomás de Torquemada imagined in his most demonic dreams. Thankfully, a growing number of filmmakers have been retaking this genre returning to a psychological approach of instilling terror in the audience. Based on his latest opus filmmaker Bryan Bertino is poised to become one of my favorite craftsmen of this genre. This film, ‘The Monster,' contains almost no bloodshed, is absolutely devoid of gratuitous sex and nudity and even the titular monster is only seen very briefly, providing nuances of horror to the story instead of being burdened with carrying the entire flick on several nauseating scenes. I was greatly impressed as I watch this film realizing before I was even to the first that I will want to watch it several times again, not just to get the subtleties used throughout it for the sheer enjoyment of the experience. While discussing this movie some other film buffs, a few have noted that they felt it was little more than an extended episode of the Twilight Zone. It should be pointed out that these individuals had only seen that several anthology TV series during cable marathons or on disk. They did not watch the show on an old black-and-white Philco located in the center of the family living room. They don’t seem to realize that that television series provided some of the best science fiction, horror and psychological thrillers many of us have ever seen. While I agree with this appraisal that ‘The Monster’ does have a similar look and feel to it, I use this comparison the highest compliment I can bestow.
Lizzie (Ella Ballentine) is the 10-year-old child of divorce. At the start of the film, she is trying to awaken her mother, Kathy (Zoe Kazan), and the stupor inflicted by last night’s latest alcohol-fueled binge. Although Kathy is reluctant to get up and face responsibilities, Lizzie is quite accustomed to dealing with the situation and eventually manages to route some of the somewhat acceptable level consciousness. Lizzie is anxious for the day to go to the right; it is up all this term to have custody Lizzie looking forward to spending some time with her father and his new girlfriend. Using the extraordinarily efficient use of the audience is given through flashbacks, a little insight into what right wrong with the marriage. Kathy is an alcoholic and drug addict prone to go out on binges. In a sad situation that unfortunately occurs all too frequently, Lizzie is forced to be the parent yesterday trying to keep the household together and become an adult without any opportunity for childhood. As Lizzie manages to rouse her mother sufficiently, they get in the family car and head off to Lizzie’s father. The tension in the car is thicker than usual; it is perfectly obvious that Lizzie wants to live with her father permanently. During the trip Kathy pulls over for cigarette break, Lizzie will let us smoke in the car, in a moment of unexpected maternal feelings presents Lizzie with a watch that once belonged to her grandmother. Reluctantly, Kathy admits that Lizzie would be better off with her father.
Although it’s a cliché, it was a dark and stormy night as mother and daughter traveled down the isolated road. Suddenly, the car shakes as they run over an animal. If your yards beyond the car is the body of a large wolf that seems to be quite dead. During the accident, Kathy struck her head that Lizzie addresses for the Band-Aid from a first aid kit. As fee amounts and Kathy, she has her daughter call for help. Lizzie manages to contact the authorities getting them to dispatch an ambulance and tow truck. Mechanic Jesse (Christine Ebadi) is affable as he tried to put the mother and daughter at ease as he begins his repairs. As Jessie starts in on the repairs required before he can attach the hoist Kathy remembers she left her phone in her bag, now located in the truck. This portion of the story is used to help reinforce the established view of Kathy. She is self-centered, a typical of an addict, Kathy exhibits a complete lack of maternal instincts, effectively display when Kathy sends her terrified daughter into the dark, raining night to retrieve her phone. Lizzie travels back to the tow truck as her mother remains in their car dry and relatively safe. Usually the term, ‘Survivor Girl’ refers to the heroine’s proclivity for avoiding the terrifying antagonist, in this instance, Lizzie has earned the designation by surviving being placed in her mother’s custody.
What is most appealing about the construction of this film is how well it captured the vintage feel of an old school horror movie. This was traditionally most recognizable in the creature features of that period.In such iconic examples as the Universal monster movies from the thirties such as ‘Frankenstein,' ‘The Wolf Man ‘and ‘The Invisible Man,.' They all had a dependency in common, the story relied on the emotional state produced by the psychological influence of the creature on the hapless humans not to preclude the creature being exceptionally frightening, frequently tapping into the primitive portion of our minds before rationalization was replaced the flight or fight autonomic response to danger. This movie represents one the finest examples of this format for a horror story that I have seen in many years. The preparation of a psychological thriller is like an exquisite meal from a master culinary artist. The approach that Mr. Bertino takes a slow approach must like simmering a meal, adding spices at the precisely perfect moment to blend synergistically enhancing the ultimate experience. The wolf running out in front the car, killed on impact only to have the body suddenly disappear as if dragged off by an enormous predator.
It bears noting that the leading ladies of this film deserve special consideration. I have been a fan of Zoe Kazan for many years as a result of her incredible work in some independent films. She often plays an upbeat, cheerful young woman is demonstrated in her principle roles in Rom-coms like ‘What if ‘and ‘Ruby Sparks.' For her to play completely against type as Kathy is an amazing transformation indicative of talent encompassing a broad and eclectic understanding of whichever character she assumes. Here she is a young mother who attempted to manifest a rebellious nature with crude tattoos and the abuse of drugs and alcohol. Ella Ballentine provides a perfect counterbalance as a young girl swapping her childhood for the premature assumption of adult responsibility. One specific manifestation of her personality becomes heartbreaking as a result of this context. Lizzie fixated of a stuffed animal that plays a childish song such as ‘Ring around the Rosie.' The unspoken reason Lizzie cannot bring herself to divest herself of the toy is it is the only piece of childhood she has from a happier time when both her mother and father were together, and they were a family.
The first solid appearance of the monster is held back until the mechanic; Jesse is working on the car brutally attacked as mother and daughter helplessly watch. In most modern movies this would be a scene that would provide significant remunerations for the special effects crew as the design and implement a ‘’realistic ‘monster animate in overly gruesome detail. The restraint demonstrated by the cast and crew is remarkably effective. In a film dependent upon manifesting dread, anxiety and primordial fear in the audience less is usually the best approach. The details of the creature’s appearance remain shrouded in shadows; the mind is far better at filling in the frightening particulars than any particular effects team, and the images they plant in the mind of the audience remain long after the closing credits. Once the creature is made known, little effort addresses who, what, why or how. For Lizzie and Kathy reality has collapsed to a singularity of survival. It always bothered me when the designated prey stops to analyze the situation attempting to make sense of the creature and its motive. It is there, and it kills without reason, just move on to survival mode. This is exactly the tact taken here, belatedly but the mother but in actual survival Girl Fashion by Lizzie. It was amazingly refreshing to experience a movie where the filmmaker sets a simple goal; terrorize the deepest recesses of the audience’s mind, moving directly to that objective with single porpoise, making a certain moment of redemption one of the most emotionally honest and psychologically compelling in the film. Hopefully, the era of the meaningless infliction of pain has once again given way to plot, acting, and style.