The Monster (2016)
★ / ★★★★
In order for an allegorical horror picture to work, it must first be successful as a horror film. “The Monster,” written and directed by Bryan Bertino, is well-intentioned but it is far from an entertaining and exciting submission to the genre. It lacks vitality, joyousness, and creativity that memorable creature-features possess and so sitting through it is not only a bore but also a waste of time. For a movie that is supposed to function on a metaphorical level, the characters are written as though they were ripped right off standard horror fares where they make one stupid decision after another.
The centerpiece of the story, a strained mother-daughter relationship, is not compelling. Kathy (Zoe Kazan) and Lizzy (Ella Ballentine) are on the road late at night during a storm after yet another day of anger and resentment in their home. Kathy loses control of the vehicle when an animal appears out of nowhere. They examine the animal but immediately notice something strange: the corpse has wounds—deep scratch marks—that are highly likely not directly due to the collision. Later, back inside the inoperative car, Kathy and Lizzy notice that the corpse on the road, there merely a few seconds prior, is no longer around.
Notice that everything in the above description offers no originality. Because it is so standard, so cliché, we wait for a twist or a breath of fresh air amidst the foul stench of recycled elements. A surge of inspiration, whether it be in the form of thrill or suspense, never comes. Instead, we are provided numerous derivative flashbacks that show the abuse Lizzy endures under the care of her drug- and alcohol-addicted mother. We see screaming matches. Lizzy being neglected. Lizzy getting hit across the face. Obviously, the metaphor is the mother being a monster. Kazan plays the character most unconvincingly.
For us to invest fully into the story, at the very least, the central relationship must be convincing. Kathy the abusive mother is thrown out the window altogether the moment the accident occurs. She becomes motherly, significantly warmer, someone one wouldn’t think to be so bad without the hackneyed, ill-placed flashbacks. There is a disconnect between the past and the present Kathy which is partly Kazan’s responsibility to bridge since it is her job to interpret the character. Instead, she employs her usual techniques of a doe-eyed, soft-voiced young woman as if she were in an independent comedy-drama she had gotten accustomed to. I got the impression that she is a one-note performer.
Partly responsible is the writer-director for not having created a character who we come to recognize is extremely flawed yet who still possesses redeeming elements. It goes to show that fusing drama and horror requires a superior ability to understand psychology. Merely showing familiar images of child abuse is not enough; it must go deeper than behavior in order to make a compelling character who we root for later on because it feels natural, not due to the plot forcing us to see yet another behavior that we cannot relate with on any level.
“The Monster” does have an actual monster in it, if you were wondering. Its look is nothing special, but I commend how shadows are utilized to hide it for the majority of the film. When shown full-bodied, however, it looks like someone wearing a bulky rubber costume.