CAPSULE: Bryan Bertino directs a suspenseful horror film about a mother and daughter stranded at night on a deserted road. Their car is besieged by what might be a wounded wolf or what might be what wounded it. They have a very dysfunctional relationship and with flashbacks we learn why. This film is an exercise in suspense that does not always work, but still has a few good scares for the audience. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
There is a popular sequence in a well-known science fiction or horror film (let me be a little cagey here and try to avoid a major spoiler). It would appear here that writer/director Bryan Bertino adapted that sequence into an entire movie by replacing and developing the characters and telling their background in flashbacks. The basic situation and some of the ways to handle scenes seem to have been borrowed from the previous film.
Kathy (played by Zoe Kazan) and her daughter Lizzy (Ella Ballentine) have a relationship that is bad from the ground up. Kathy is irresponsible and a substance abuser and estranged from Lizzy's father, so Lizzy has previously taken the role of the adult of the family. Now Lizzy is fed up and wants to go to her father, and while Cathy does not like the idea, she is cooperating. Lizzy wants to get there as soon as possible even if it means that Kathy has to drive all night.
They are the only people on a back road when suddenly their car hits something big and spins around smashing the driver's door. It looks to be a wolf dead in the road, but a few minutes later the wolf's body has disappeared. There must be something else on the road, probably bigger than the wolf. And you guessed it: as the mother and daughter learn to depend on each other the ice between them melts. If it had not, the audience would not be so anxious to have the two save themselves. At first neither person seemed worth the effort to save. But each eventually realizes that the other may be the key to her survival
The film is left with some long scenes of the beleaguered pair facing off against something they can never get a good look at. Scenes like these put the director on a knife-edge between keeping the viewer in suspense and being tedious. Sometimes seeing too much nothing in the progress in the story will lose the viewer or it may just tighten the suspense. Here it does both. The film sometimes works, though some pieces carry on too long.
Bertino does some decent exercise in atmosphere, e.g. sending the car down dark Freudian roads lit only by a pair of headlights. He largely introduces the whatsit just a bit at a time. The viewer is left to question if he/she really saw what it looked like. Little visual details are added slowly. [Incidentally, I saw the poster after only after seeing the film and I would have been unhappy had I seen them in the other order. The poster is a stupendous spoiler. Take that as a warning.]
I rate THE MONSTER a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10. It is of note that Zoe Kazan is the granddaughter of the great but controversial film director Elia Kazan. A24 will release THE MONSTER In Theaters and On Demand on November 11. The film is available now exclusively on DirecTV.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3976144/combined
What others are saying: https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/the_monster_2016
Mark R. Leeper Copyright 2016 Mark R. Leeper