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A Monster Calls

The Monster: Underneath the Horror is Heartfelt Mother-Daughter Drama

  • Felicity JonesLewis MacDougall...
  • DramaFantasy
  • J.A. Bayona
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Marija Djurovic
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The Monster: Underneath the Horror is Heartfelt Mother-Daughter Drama

Situated somewhere between a poignant family-drama and a bloodthirsty monster-survival tale, The Monster – written and directed by The Strangers’ Bryan Bertino – is not the kind of horror movie that you come across very often. Bolstered by a couple of powerful and, most importantly, believable lead performances and sustained by a tremendous amount of slow-burning suspense, The Monster delivers the mood and the chills, even when the story ends up hitting a few rather unfavourable and predictable bumps along the way.

Kathy (Kazan scarily convincing at every turn) is a young single mom who is not only struggling with substance-abuse problem, but is also having a hard time in accepting responsibilities when it comes to raising her pre-teen daughter, Lizzy (Ballentine equally memorable).  Running out of options, Kathy has decided to drive Lizzy to her father’s house – a man who embodies an equal amount of volatile and self-destructive behaviour – and is now slowly coming to accept the fact that Lizzy will probably never return to live with her again.

The two soon hit the road and the ride through the dark and winding path through the woods is, just as the flashbacks of their personal relationship with each other suggests, filled with plenty of awkwardness and tension. It all changes for the worst when, after crashing into what they thought was a wolf, the two are left stranded in the middle of the road with nowhere to go. After calling for an ambulance, the waiting game begins. However, more fear soon enters their world when an otherworldly creature, in the form of a black, slimy and big-teethed monster, appears out of the woods, ready to kill anyone who stands in its way.

Moody and surprisingly raw in its storytelling, The Monster spends most of its screen time on the isolated road with the girls, trapped in a car whilst delivering a series of flashbacks – which depict the seemingly hateful and volatile relationship between the two – that prove to be more brutally terrifying than anything else seen on screen. It is in these flashback moments where we see both actresses shine, with Kazan offering a terrifyingly on-point performance of a mother who is not ready to take on her responsibilities and Ballentine who, despite her young age, has no choice but to take on the role of a grown up. It’s a scary exploration to say the least and Bertino, who induces the picture with enough mood and slow-burning suspense to last a lifetime, knows how to play with these horrifying notions well.

Unnerving, though not necessarily scary, once the monster comes calling – its origins remain a mystery throughout –is when the picture begins to slowly fall apart, with Bertino failing to draw out enough terror and fear from his badly-costumed monster that looks like it just stepped out from the set of Alien. Original? Not really.

Nevertheless, on the whole, The Monster is executed well. It’s a small movie with a big message and even if the big bad itself is not scary, it’s the unseen creature that is eating away the love between a mother and a daughter that offers the strongest frights.

360 Tip

Mad Men’s Elisabeth Moss was originally cast as Kathy.

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