Personally, there is nothing I love more than a good “creature feature”. The Universal Monsters kick started the genre way back when and ever since we have seen it grow into a massive subset filled with all different kinds of movies. Ranging from crazy expensive studio blockbusters to tiny indie horror films with little to no budget we have seen the monster movie branch out and become a massive staple of cinema. The newest film from horror writer/director Bryan Bertino (The Strangers) simply titled The Monster is another link in the chain as it tells a heartbreaking family drama amidst the confines of a suffocating creature feature.
When Kathy (Zoe Kazan), a drunk with an affinity for smoking, oversleeps on the day she is supposed to take her daughter Lizzy (Ella Ballentine) to her father’s house the two find themselves traveling on a dark rainy night instead of a sunny afternoon. This becomes a problem when a passing wolf causes them to spin out and crash, leaving them stranded on a secluded country road. While examining the road kill they find a massive tooth, seemingly belonging to something we have never seen before, lodged in its abdomen. While waiting for EMTs and emergency services to arrive the two find themselves being potential prey to whatever it is that attacked this wolf.
Working within a limited setting the movie splits itself fairly equally between horror and drama. Though the main draw of the movie is the monster itself and the scenes involving it Bertino was still able to tell an interesting enough family drama amidst all of that. It admittedly doesn’t work as well as the creature stuff but using flashbacks and extreme dramatics he is able to make us truly feel for these two. Neither of them has had an easy life and just when it all seemed to have reached its worst point, they run into something out of this world.
The emotional side of this movie is made possible by the powerful acting put on display within those dramatic moments. For the majority of the film we are only seeing Kathy and Lizzy interact with each other. Whether it be in flashback or in real time they make this movie what it is and Zoe Kazan and Ella Ballentine are incredible in every moment. The two of them give what are easily some of the best dramatic performances in horror we have seen all year.
What’s this movie called again? Oh yeah, The Monster, meaning all of that drama is good and well but it’s all for nothing if the creature isn’t up to snuff. Being done, I believe, almost entirely with practical effects the big baddie of this movie is a treat for all horror fans. The design is wonderful, pulling inspiration from all kinds of our favorite classic creatures, and they nail the execution. The film is significantly more compelling and exciting when the monster is around and thankfully, once it shows up they aren’t afraid to showcase what it can do.
This is where the movie fully sucked me in, this is where I could tell the guy making this has so much of the same love as I, and so many other movie nerds, have for these kinds of movies. Drawing inspiration from all time classics like Jurassic Park, Alien, and C.U.J.O (just to name a few) the entire movie ends up playing as a giant love letter to monster cinema. I mean, come one! this movie is basically the T-Rex attack from Jurassic Park played out over ninety minutes with a much more discreet predator hunting them down, it’s fantastic.
Bertino has made a decent name for himself in the horror community for his work on The Strangers, a movie so many love that I admittedly have a hard time getting into, but I could still see in it his ability to craft a brilliant piece of cinema. Especially when it comes to horror, what has always worked for me in his work is the moments of terror and dread. He has always had a knack for conveying those awful feelings on screen so well, I just think he needs a little more work in the drama side of things, an opinion I’m sure a number of you will disagree with.
Regardless of his past work I noticed a significant improvement in the emotional side of his filmmaking this time around though. Maybe it was just the great performances from Zoe Kazan and Ella Ballentine but I actually cared a lot about the two leads in this movie, even with one of them being a fairly despicable person. He was able to create a fresh take on the creature feature with an extremely modest budget and he scores major extra points for all the amazing practical work done with the monster itself. His latest effort is another fine edition to the world of creature features and I happily welcome more films like it going forward.
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