Sunday, November 13, 2016

Crabby Movie Review: The Monster

 I'm a monster movie fanatic. I will watch anything that has a monster in it. I count the days until the release as soon as I catch wind that a monster movie is coming down the pike. So how did this movie get made and released without me ever hearing a peep about it?

 Thank God that Entertainment Weekly ran a review in their latest issue. Of course it wasn't playing theatrically anywhere near me, but it was on-demand, which spared me obnoxious theater-goers, and saved me from having to nag my wife to come with me. (She did watch a good chunk of the film, though...more on that later.)

 THE MONSTER, written and directed by Bryan Bertino, is basically a two-woman show. Zoe Kazan plays Kathy, a drunken, self-centered mess of a mother to Lizzy, played by Ella Ballentine. Lizzy has almost switched roles with her mother, becoming the caretaker for a self-destructive, unreliable adult. The film opens with Lizzy attempting to get an early start on a road trip to visit her father, but Kathy, after an all-night bender, doesn't get out of bed until nearly 5 PM, forcing the pair to do most of the long drive at night. With a few hours to go before they get to their destination, the pair have a car accident on a deserted road, hitting a wolf and spinning out of control. Kathy is injured, and while they wait for the tow truck and ambulance to arrive, they discover that the wolf appears to have already been injured before they struck it. Lizzy finds a massive tooth in one of the wounds, and takes it back to the car. (As Lizzy tells Kathy later on "Dogs don't got teeth like that.")

 The tow-truck driver finally arrives, and as he's attempting to hook their car up, Lizzy notices that the wolf is now gone. And soon the tow-truck driver is gone. Something massive is in the woods, and it knows that Kathy and Lizzy are stranded in the car.....

 This is, of course, a monster movie. And the monster itself is a real beast, beautifully brought to life by practical effects. But the heart of the move is the strained relationship between Kathy and Lizzy. The fracturing of the mother/daughter bond is painfully laid out in a series of flashbacks that were tough to watch. Kathy is too young and selfish to fully commit to parenting her bright young daughter, and Lizzy, who may or may not have been planning to never come back from the visit to her Father's house, professes to hate her mother, but the tender way that she cares for the often incapacitated Kathy would seem to say otherwise.

 Films like this have taken on a new meaning to me since I became a father. I used to be able to just watch and enjoy them, but now I see scenes like the one pictured above and feel the dread that only parents can really know. The terror that your child might need you, and you won't be able to save them. My wife, for her part, got up and walked out with about 20 minutes left. "This is getting too scary", was the last thing she said before bolting up the stairs to the bedroom.

 Zoe Kazan does a great job with the many shades of Kathy's personality, but the real revelation here is young Ella Ballentine. I know there's no chance in hell it'll ever happen, considering that The Academy hates Horror, but she delivers an Oscar-caliber performance in this film, and I hope she gets honored for it somehow.

 THE MONSTER is a real gem of a Horror film, and I highly recommend it.

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