The Monster – Time to survive the night! – DVD Review

 Kathy (Zoe Kazan) and her 10-year-old daughter Lizzy (Ella Ballentine) are trapped and tormented in a pitch-black forest by a screeching creature. It is unlike anything they have heard before. Not human. Not animal. A monster. With their relationship at breaking point, Kathy is on the edge while Lizzy is all out of faith in her mother but tries to stay brave and fearless. To survive the night, Kathy must summon her most primal instinct to protect herself and her daughter from what’s lurking in the darkness…

Ella Balentine and Zoe Kazan in The Monster (2)

 The Monster is a tense claustrophobic horror which sees a mother and daughter terrorised by a monster in the woods. Beautifully shot with some well-executed special effects to bring the creature to life, the film delivers what you would expect and could easily have played out as a conventional creature feature. Writer-director Bryan Bertino (who made his debut with the home invasion thriller The Strangers (2008)) manages to add another layer to the film, dealing with the sometimes-monstrous relationship between mother and daughter Kathy and Lizzy.

From the start of the film, there is an obvious tension between the two, which you sense stems much further than Kathy getting up late and Lizzy having to clean up the mess which her mum has left. As details of their past are gradually uncovered through a series of flashbacks, it gives us a glimpse of the turbulent imbalance in the relationship.  Struggling with the responsibility of being a mum, Kathy turns to smoking and alcohol to numb the burden, which in turn forces Lizzy to undertake a more parental role.

The flashbacks in incorporated effortlessly throughout the film without disrupting the flow or build-up of tension. In some of the later scenes, the emotional connection actually adds to current events, where we see them again being terrorised by the monster.

I liked the monster in the film, but the real success of the film is the performances from the two leading actresses Zoe Kazan and Ella Ballentine. They do an amazing job as Kathy and Lizzy respectively,  delivering an array of conflicted emotions in their often-troubled relationship. The main focus of the film may be about them surviving the attack, but the way in which details of their dysfunctional relationship unfolds is just as enthralling.

Zoe Kazan in The Monster (1)

Zoe Kazan is compelling as a mother who you feel has never really accepted the responsibility of parenthood, because in some ways she has never really grown up herself. Struggling with the responsibility she consoles herself with cigarettes and alcohol to ease the burden, which we see in more detail with the flashbacks. With the self-interested characteristics of Kathy and her behaviour, she shouldn’t be a likeable character, but because of her bewildered honesty you can’t help but empathise with the character. Confused and afraid it builds into a frustrated anger Kathy continues to push Lizzy away throughout because she doesn’t feel that she can ever be good enough. Scared she will fail she doesn’t want to try, but there are several moments where you can see behind it all you can see that she still cares.

Ella Ballentine looks to be another child actress who manages to portray an emotional maturity beyond her years as Lizzy.  It is a moving performance as she becomes conflicted in a love-hate relationship with her mother. With her mother losing control, it is down to Lizzy to hold things together; but the more she tries to bring her mother closer, the further she seems to be pushed away.

The flashbacks often give a glimpse into a volatile relationship fuelled by emotions, which piece together the fundamental structure of their fragile emotional relationship. Whether they are shouting at each other in the street, or a more serene moment where Lizzy is comforting her mother who has passed out from the alcohol; each scene has a purpose and in the delivery creates a powerful impact.

The visual look and style of the film is stunning, with the understated lighting from the headlight of the vehicles creating a slick visual against the shadows in the rain. It looks amazing and helps to create the remote desolation with them being stranded in the wilderness.

With a lot of the kills being delivered off screen, I was expecting to see very little of the monster, with it being hidden and appearing more as silhouettes within the shadows. Although upon seeing the detailed design of the monster once he does appear, I can understand why they wanted to uncover it more as the film went on.

Ella Balentine in The Monster (2)

There is very little gore in the film, but when the monster does kill on the screen you can appreciate the sheer size and power of the monster. It is a vicious attack which reminded me of An American Werewolf in London (1981) which is really effective, so it is surprising that they didn’t include more visual kills throughout.

If there were any weaknesses to the film, it would be the convictions of the monster itself, who considering its power and size seemed to lack conviction in finishing its victims. There are no suggestions that it wants to toy with or taunt his victims, so it seems strange that some of the kills are not more instantaneous. It certainly has the ability and as the film goes on it eventually becomes more relentless in finishing the job. These are minor points, which like some of the decision which is made during the attacks you can let slide – as often with horror films these moments are here to create the suspense.

The Monster works well as a creature feature, but with the additional dramatic execution in the backstory, it has an intelligence which gives it a broader appeal. Bryan Bertino proves his versatility with a well-balanced mix of drama and horror and exceeds with another horror film which creates an impact. If you are looking for a horror film which has a bit more than just a bite, I would recommend checking out The Monster for Halloween. You may pay to see the monster, but you end up getting so much more thanks to the performances from the two female leads.

Released on Monday The Monster is available to buy now on DVD and Digital.

Trapped and Tormented
  • Film Review The Monster

A mother and daughter must confront a terrifying monster when they break down on a deserted road.

A review of the new creature feature horror from writer-director Bryan Bertino, which exceeds expectations thanks to the emotionally charges performances from the films two female leads; Zoe Kazan and Ella Ballentine

Philip Rogers

Philip Rogers

Published in various websites, Philip is a reviewer who is best known for his interviews and media coverage of independent projects including; films, books, theatre and live events. Always on the lookout for something different to cover!