The Monster: Turns Horror Genre Upside-Down by Injecting Oscar Worthy Family Drama [Review]

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From A24, Unbroken Pictures and director Bryan Bertino (The Strangers) comes the horror thriller about a dysfunctional mother and daughter who get stranded and attacked by a beast in the woods, comes The Monster. Starring Zoe Kazan, Ella Ballentine, Chris Webb, Scott Speedman, Aaron Douglas and Christine Ebadi, the film is available now on VOD.

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A divorced mother and her headstrong daughter must make an emergency late-night road trip to see the girl’s father. As they drive through deserted country roads on a stormy night, they suddenly have a startling collision that leaves them shaken but not seriously hurt. Their car, however, is dead, and as they try in vain to get help, they come to realise they are not alone — a terrifying evil is lurking in the woods, intent on never letting them leave.


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Director Bryan Bertino has managed to take the typical monster thriller and combined it with gut-wrenching family drama in ways that completely turn the genre upside down. Zoe Kazan plays an alcoholic mother (Kathy) who is incredibly difficult to live with and her young daughter (Lizzy), played magnificently well by Ella Ballentine, suffers daily whether it be her mom’s insults or worse. The two set out on a cross-country road trip so that Kathy can send Lizzy to live with her husband (they are divorced) and finally avoid all the annoyances of being a real mother. The cracked foundation of this mother-daughter relationship is what drives ‘The Monster’ from beginning to end. One could argue the title has a double-meaning in that Kazan’s terrible mother is the titular character and not the demon ape that is trying to kill them after their car breaks down.

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We don’t typically get this kind of Oscar worthy backstory in a ‘slasher’ or what have you but the performances and emotional roundhouses that pound the audience again and again during flashbacks between Lizzy and Kathy are unlike any other I’ve seen in my horror films. I think that ‘The Monster’ pulls this kind of affecting material off much better than say a film like The Babadook tried to do (and did very well mind you…). When we see Kathy yelling “Fuck you” a hundred times at her little girl because she’s embarrassed to have her drunk mother show up at her school play – it’s very, very tough to stomach. Even more-so when we see Lizzy trying to hide her mother’s boyfriend’s drugs until it leads to an even more heart-wrenching physical encounter between mother and daughter.

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‘The Monster’ does everything so well in it’s simple setting, so much so it’s crazy to me that we become more upset about the family drama when we’re thrust right into a horrifying current situation in which a legit monster is trying to kill these two girls. PS – Chris Webb is in that monster suit and I loved how they stuck with practical effects (they were practical I’m assuming – and fucking awesome). So many indie horror flicks succumb to shitty CGI but Bertino opted to stick with old-school methods and he nailed the tone and feel here with this original looking beast, which was a sick combo between a gorilla and the xenomorph from Alien.

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The film is thrilling, extremely emotional and gripping right until the bitter end because as one would assume, it takes an actual life or death situation for Kathy to become a parent for the first time. Or does she? She does so many despicable things, but in spite of it all – Lizzy still does care for this failure of a human being and that makes the movie even MORE tough to watch at times. Ella Ballentine delivers hands down the child performance of the year here and I really hope you all check out ‘The Monster’ because it does a tremendous job making the audience truly care for it’s potential victims and that is something that is always difficult to do in a horror film.

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