Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Monster is Not an AA Meeting: A Film Review

*full disclosure: a Blu-ray copy of this film was provided by Lionsgate.

Director: Bryan Bertino.

Writer: Bryan Bertino.

Cast: Zoe Kazan, Ella Ballentine and Aaron Douglas.

Tagline: "Fear Can Kill You!"

The Monster is a creature feature from The Strangers' (2008) director Bryan Bertino. Bertino has admitted that he likes writing "dark dramas" and The Monster is a blend of drama with horror. The film's central plot involves a mother and daughter road trip. But, this trip crosses the lair of a bat-like monstrosity. The mother-daughter relationship is a strange one, with the younger Lizzy (Ella Ballentine) parenting the not much older Kathy (Zoe Kazan). There is no meta-level here as stated by the director. Instead, this is a "monster movie." And, this is an enjoyable creature feature, that will draw many horror viewers into the dark abyss.

Much of the film is told via a backstory. The backstories show Kathy and her struggle with alcoholism and other self-destructive behaviour. A good mother, Kathy is not. Lizzy must pick up after her passed out mother, or comfort her when sick. These are not appropriate roles for a child. However, once on the road, this duo put their conflicts aside, in order to survive an accident. An animal lies wounded in the road and its killer is lurking just out of camera range. Trapped, Lizzy and Kathy call for help, only for a couple of minor characters to be offed, in grisly fashion. How much meat can fit into this creature's gullet?

It was interesting to see how well director and writer has developed his characters and their roles. Lizzy is often the one forced into the role of a parent. Kathy is often too drunk to be responsible. For instance, after an alcohol fueled night, the child is picking up after her mother. She is the housekeeper, when it is Kathy who should be. After Kathy passes out near a toilet, Lizzy is there to comfort her. This horror fan was raised by a single mom and it is interesting to see how Bertino has written this role reversal, so effectively. Sometimes, immature parents will expect their children to raise themselves; this is an impossibility. And, it interesting to see Bertino bring so much believability to these characters.

This critic has read several comments, in reviews and on forums, about the metaphorical role of the monster; there is none. Even after a second viewing, there is no meta-level of storytelling, here. There is no symbolism and no repetition of a theme. As well, the monster does not appear in any of the flashbacks. There is no connecting the main story, to the earlier ones. Some have suggested that the monster represents addiction. But, this viewer saw no evidence of this. After all, the monster is not spouting phrases from Alcoholic's Anonymous; it is simply trying to eat them. If viewers' are seeing a secondary lair here, it is likely a bias, being projected onto the film.

The Monster is simply a creature feature. It is also a well produced one. This is no 1950s' monster movie, with plastic creatures hung from a string. Instead, the creature has been well developed. It looks like something born in a cave, with its whitish eyes. It also has these wide bat-like wings, which it encloses around some of its victims. It lurks around in the shadows, until the victim's final moments. And, its gurgling throat breaks the silence, in some of the scenes. And, its presence on-screen is consistently horrifying.

The Monster was already released in theatres, this past October. This creature feature will now see a home entertainment release in late January. The Monster is a fairly straight-forward horror film. Though, its characters are well-developed and the conflicts, they have, are believable. The monster effects are practical and also realistic. Time, thought and effort were put into this blackish foe. It just would have been interesting to see a second meta-narrative incorporated into the feature, or a clearer moral message. As it is, The Monster offers thrills on a darkened road, but there is no strong reason to take the journey.

Overall: 6.25 out of 10.

Recommended release:

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