I learned something important last night after watching The Monster. Even though I love creature features I don’t particularly like them crossbred with the drama genre. I don’t even like dramas per say. The last one I ever watched was HBO’s Six Feet Under (2001-2005), and I don’t know why. It just hit all the right notes and I stayed with it until the very end. This isn’t the first creature feature drama I’ve seen either. I reviewed Dark Was The Night (2014) and even though it was good it just wasn’t repeat watching good for me, plus the creature design and execution in the final moments fell flat. It was an animatronic beast up until the final reveal when it turned into a CGI critter and with design that was incredibly uninspired. I’ve seen creature features spliced with comedies, science fiction and even a western, some of which I actually liked and have collected, but merging it with your basic drama just doesn’t grab my interest.
With the particulars of this drama it was the dysfunctional family unit on display that hit way too close to home for me (minus the alcoholism), along with some of the intense scenes between mother and daughter later in the film, to ever want to view this movie beyond the initial one I had last night, They weren’t bad, not by a long shot; in fact those later scenes were done so realistically I actually found it hard to watch them. I think most of it stemmed from one of the character simply being a little girl. Had the movie been about a mother and a grown daughter I may have been able to handle them, but to watch this little girl realistically appear terrorized and traumatized, especially in the scene where her mother tells her she’s going to die (the mother dying not the daughter), and the scene after where the mother has had her chest pretty much torn out by the monster and the daughter watches her die were incredibly hard to watch. I was fine with the monster attack scenes and gore, but the realistic traumatized acting by mother and daughter got to me on a primal level. There was even some doubt whether I was even going to be able to finish watching the movie. I did, but had fast-forwarded a few seconds in the final act where the mother lay dying. So, hats off to the two actresses who pulled all that acting off.
This movie doesn’t tread unfamiliar territory. If you’ve seen Wind Chill (2004) you’ll already have a pretty good idea how the plot to The Monster unfolds. Both movies involve two characters driving from one location to another and taking a back road people in the area don’t normally travel anymore. In Wind Chill that road had a history that manifests itself in supernatural ways. The road in The Monster we know nothing about other than from a line from a tow truck driver who says people don’t normally take this route anymore. And both movies involve a late night accident that traps the two characters in their cars where they are subsequently menaced by the ghosts and/or monster that routinely “haunts” this stretch of pavement. Wind Chill used the heart of winter as its backdrop and as another kind of danger (deep cold kills) to keep the characters in their vehicle, while a thunderstorm and heavy rain is used in The Monster to set the mood. Both movies, however, play out differently as it pertains to how long the characters stay trapped in their respective vehicles, but play out exactly the same where one of them doesn’t make all the way through the movie.
The film focuses on mother Kathy (Zoe Kazan) and daughter Lizzy (Ella Ballentine) who don’t get along. The film opens with Lizzy waking her mother up in bed and I’ll admit when I first saw Kathy I thought, shit, girl how old are you? Maybe, the movie has it wrong, this is Lizzy’s big sister, but, nope, she kept saying, “Mom, get up!” Okay, so this is the mother. What was she like fifteen when she had Lizzy? Which could conceivably be true. It’s just when there’s a movie about a mother and a daughter I’m used to seeing a mother who’s a lot order.
It’s clear from that opening scene both do not get along and Lizzy is in the process of going to see her Dad, a trip which is hinted at being one way. For the most part the movie is linear, but to build on their back story, during crucial moments in the film, it flashes back to show us how much of an alcoholic, and abusive, douche Kathy is, how much Lizzy hates her, and in one scene where Scott Speedman plays the father, how much of a douche he is too. It’s never clear, though, why Lizzy wants to go live with her father. Maybe, she’s choosing the lesser of the two evils.
An animal, possibly a wolf, since that’s what they keep referring to it as, darts out in the middle of the road forcing Kathy into an accident. The wolf is now dead, and the girls are injured, Kathy with a broken wrist. A quick call to 911 on the cell gets them an ambulance and a tow truck, the former of which takes its sweet ass time to show up. Meanwhile the girls assess the damage to the car and the dead animal in the road. Lizzy pries a massive tooth out of the animal’s carcass and from then on she keeps obsessing over why it was in the middle of the road all scarred up to begin with and what may have created all those bloody wounds in the first place.
The tow truck driver is the creature’s first human victim, followed by the paramedics when they show up. The girls manage to stay alive long enough to get their asses into the ambulance and drive off after the creature picks off the paramedics, but this thing is intent on not letting them off the road and it’s massive enough to actually pile drive itself into the side of the vehicle. Now Kathy and Lizzy are in accident #2, a more severe one, since the ambulance goes toppling over into the woods. It exacerbates Kathy’s wounds (she was attacked earlier by the creature and had a massive chunk taken out of her side), and she knows she’s going to die.
Mother and daughter now work together to distract the monster long enough for Lizzy to run away, but Lizzy doesn’t run. After her mother is killed, she uses good old fashion fire via makeshift flamethrower with a lighter and a can of something to set the light the motherfucker up, and this monster was unexpectedly flammable. Unless I missed something where it got doused, this thing just goes up in the blink of an eye. Is there a happy ending? Kind of. I guess. Daylight breaks, and she walks out of the woods, but she’s in a field now. Movie ends. Okay, yeah, she’s alive and the monster is dead, but so what. There could be more, and we’ll never know if she really made it to civilization. The monster’s origin is wisely kept out of the tale, making it’s sudden and bloody interaction with the human characters to be a kind of “fatal biological car accident” in and of itself. The kind of “car accident” that has one thinking to him or herself you really never know the “horrors” that lurk in the dark corners of the world until the moment they’re on you and eating your guts out.
This movie could’ve done without the flashbacks. If it was set up differently, the drama could have been lengthened in the beginning, because the flashbacks pulled me out of the film. It’s a pretty intense flick from the accident on, and I was tense watching it, then the movie shoots back to the past, breaking my tension.
The monster itself is the movie’s shining moment because it’s a total practical effect created by StudioADI (Amalgamated Dynamics), Tom Woodruff, jr, and Alec Gillis’ FX studio. It’s not a totally original design, for it reminded a little bit of the Terror Dogs from Ghostbusters (1984) minus the horns and the glowing eyes, and adding a huge mouth with massive teeth. Kind of a distant cousin I’d call it, but I enjoyed its design much, much more than the beast from Dark Was The Night. Proving once again that if you need a quality monster for your movie hit up StudioADI.
Video/Audio/Subtitles: 1080p 2.40:1 high definition widescreen—5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio—English SDH & Spanish subs only.
Extras included . . .
- Eyes In The Darkness featurette (7:31)
If the drama doesn’t hit you right between the eyes like it did me and you can keep a certain level of emotional distance from the “mother/daughter trauma scenes” in the final act you could manage to get repeated viewings out of this where I couldn’t.