Quick Hit: Metaphors to the max in this monster movie.
Horror may be one of the best genres in film for allowing metaphors to propagate across its screens. Whether we’re talking about male roles with Colossal, chaos theory with The Purge, or the drain of motherhood with The Babadook, we have a plethora of movies that hold poignant symbolism. And while writer/director Bryan Bertino isn’t the first one to make the metaphor featured most prominently in this movie, he handles it deftly, much as he handled his previous smash hit The Strangers.
The Monster stars Zoe Kazan (The Big Sick) as Kathy, the world’s most terrible mother. I’m not joking here – she almost makes Carrie’s mom look preferable to the treatment she’s getting. Lizzy (Ella Ballentine) is done, and ready to go move in with her father. They set out on a long drive that seems as if it will take all night, and they end up hitting a wolf out in the boonies. After a call to an ambulance and a tow truck – which Lizzy has to make – they look up to notice that the body of the animal they hit has disappeared.
There are the obligatory side characters that must show up to be sacrificed to the monster in the cause of keeping the leads alive, and they do their jobs. Bertino does a good job with the monster, using the same techniques that he employed in The Strangers – allowing the monster to appear in the background and disappear without the character in the foreground to notice – and it’s still very effective at giving a few shock moments. The creature itself is mostly cloaked in darkness, possibly to hide any flaws in the suit, but the creature is a creation that seems to be of the practical quality, and overall I liked it’s Giger-esque design (kind of like if a Xenomorph and Venom had a very disgusting baby).
What I personally think is the strongest part of the story isn’t the monster though, or the gruesome deaths of the characters. The most visceral horrors take place inside the home of Lizzy and Kathy as we slowly watch Kathy become a slave to her addictions. These range from angering to infuriating to downright uncomfortable to watch. You completely see while the relationship between mother and daughter has detoriated in the way it has. This creates a nice redemption arc for their relationship, and while I think that the film may have been better suited if we didn’t see any other characters (maybe until a final reveal at the end), the film handles this flashback mentality very well.
Zoe Kazan is terrific balancing the different pieces of her role she is given. The script at times falters in allowing her to truly shine, but she takes what she’s given and is convincing both as an addict, a failing mother, and a vehemently protective mother who just wants to rescue her child from danger. Young Ella Ballentine holds her own as Lizzy, a young girl who has been forced to grown up and is angry about the childhood that she has lost, even if she doesn’t know why she’s so angry. Many child actors would have been overshadowed by Kazan’s terrific performance, but Ballentine does an admirable job at showing chemistry with her mother and portraying the longing for a different present.
Overall, I thought the movie was pretty good, and I don’t think most people that enjoy the metaphorical nature of horror will be disappointed. I’m giving it a “B+”.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"