Scary movies are a difficult thing to surprise anyone with these days. There are only so many premises that can be explored, so at some point the best way to tackle a movie of the scary sort is to just take a premise that, in itself, may not be all that original, but fill it with substance and simply try to make the best movie possible. That is exactly what director Bryan Bertino did with his latest The Monster.
The Monster centers on a young girl named Lizzy (Ella Ballentine) who is dealing with her incredibly complex relationship with her mom Kathy (Zoe Kazan). During a road trip to bring Lizzy to see her father, Kathy hits an animal on a deserted road that they think is a wolf, rendering their car useless. When things start going awry beyond the accident, it becomes clear that the woods around them are hiding something much more terrifying than an injured wolf.
Bryan Bertino made a name for himself with the home invasion horror flick The Strangers. Similarly, he took a very familiar concept and maximized its potential with expertly crafted tension, great performances and the right amount of payoff. The Monster is very much that same philosophy, but applied to an "oh no there is something in the woods" monster movie. The thing that really makes The Monster work is not the horrifying main plot of the movie, but really it is the very complicated relationship between Lizzy and Kathy that is kind of brilliantly explored as an intercut storyline to go along with the main attraction; a terrifying beast that is pretty much the sum total of everything humanity fears might be lurking in the unknown darkness.
The problem with trying to write about a movie like The Monster is that it really is best to watch it not knowing a whole lot about it. If you can simply be sold on the idea that this is a carefully crafted, if somewhat subverted and complex, monster/horror movie, then by all means, watch this movie. If you need some more convincing, there are plenty of things to make note of. For one, the performances in the movie are outstanding. Both Ella Ballentine and Zoe Kazan crush it as the duel leads in The Monster, but Ella absolutely shines. Child actors can be the achilles heel of a movie, especially a horror movie, but in this case, she is the anchor that elevates the material. In addition to the higher quality acting than one might expect from a low budget horror movie, there is also some outstanding practical effects work. The actual creature in this movie is truly fantastic and harkens back to the 80s before a beast like this could just be created on a laptop. This thing has a tangibility to it like that of the Xenomorphs in Aliens. It is, in a word, awesome.
The Monster succeeds on virtually every level that a movie like this can succeed. It is scary, it looks beautiful while at the same time looking dark, dank, ominous and unsettling. The pacing is damn near perfect and as stated before, there is actually some serious substance here. Even if this movie was just as good as the midnight monster movie element promised by its title, it would still be worth seeing. But when combined with a true emotional arc, The Monster becomes something a bit more special. Bryan Bertino has logged another win as a writer and a director and production company A24 is continuing their ridiculous hot streak of delivering very unique and high quality indie movies. If you want something a little outside of the box this weekend or if you didn't get your scare fix over Halloween, The Monster is right up your alley.