When I first watched Bryan Bertino's latest film, THE MONSTER, a few month ago, I couldn't understand what all the hype was about. As a fan of his other film, THE STRANGERS, I wanted to feel that deep sense of dread and horror that stayed with me throughout the entire viewing, but for whatever reason, THE MONSTER wasn't impacting me the same way instead leaving me feeling neutral, if not a bit disappointed. Fast-forward to now, and the chance to re-watch THE MONSTER presented itself and I figured there would be no harm in giving it another chance. Well let me be the first to say, I take back my original thoughts because this movie is fantastic.
THE MONSTER, which is written and directed by Bryan Bertino, stars Zoe Kazan and Ella Ballentine as a mother and daughter who get stranded on a country road during a stormy night after a car accident. Shaken, but not seriously injured, they await for help but soon realize that they are not alone on this desolate stretch of road and that there is a terrifying presence lurking about, intent on never letting them go.
On the surface, this film could be just your average run-of-the-mill horror film, but what sets it apart from other films in its genre is the powerful message and emotional storyline that courses it's way throughout the entire film. Looking back, I can understand why I didn't enjoy my first viewing and it was because I saw too much of myself within the mother figure, Kathy (Zoe Kaza). I am not a mother, so I can't relate on that level of having a child, but Kathy's character is one who deals with alcohol abuse and immaturity towards raising a child and she bases her worth on the attention of her toxic significant other while neglecting the love from her daughter, Lizzy (Ella Ballentine). The relationship between Kathy and Lizzy is incredibly strained and throughout the film we catch glimpses of flashbacks that indicate why Lizzy has such disdain towards her mother.
Growing up, I lost my father just before graduating high-school. This led me down a very tumultuous path that included an alcohol addiction which, at times, ending up straining my relationship with my mom. I did a lot of horrible things when I was a teenager, things I'm not proud of, but I understand why I did them and I now know the pain and hurt that I caused. It's been a long time since I lived that life and I'm now coming up on 7 years of sobriety, but man, THE MONSTER really hit me in a place that was unexpected and I found myself becoming extremely emotional during certain scenes. It reminded me so much of the relationship that I had with my mom when I was younger, the woman who has cared about me regardless of all the hate and sadness and anger I threw her way.
Putting aside all the emotional and deeper moments within the film, THE MONSTER does actually have a monster to fear. The monster itself is horrifying, with incredibly large, sharp fangs and one gnarly face to look at. There are different theories as to what the monster may represent, but my boyfriend actually brought up a great theory. He believes the monster was a manifestation of the relationship between Kathy and Lizzy. I definitely could see that being the symbolism for the film, but I also wonder if maybe the monster appeared to bring these two people together. To show that even through all the bullshit, hurt and pain, deep down there was a selfless love for each other, and though it took an act of pure horror to bring it out, the love was always there.
I know this review has gotten pretty personal, but it's hard not to touch on certain aspects when they are embedded throughout the film. However, for those that are looking for a bit more of the scares and gore, you'll still get plenty of that. I wish there wasn't as many musical cues leading up to the scares as I think it would have been more impactful without but that's really my only criticism of the film. As for the gore, you get to see some ripped off limbs and quite a far amount of exposed gashes and lots of blood. I found the juxtaposition between the violence and the emotional storyline to be quite interesting and in the end, I felt like the two meshed together almost perfectly.
Overall, I'm incredibly happy to have given THE MONSTER another chance because it's a film that digs deep into your soul and doesn't let go. Though it still relied on similar tropes seen within the horror genre, the overall execution of the film was top-notch. The storyline is seamless with everything coming full circle while the performances are captivating from start to finish. I can't stress enough that THE MONSTER is one of the best horror films to come out in 2016 and one that I will continue to watch and recommend to those both near and far.
THE MONSTER is now available to own on Blu-ray and DVD.