The Monster (2016) review

Reviewed by Kevin Scott,

The Monster (2016)
Written by: Bryan Bertino
Directed by: Bryan Bertino
Cast: Zoe Kazan (Kathy), Ella Ballentine (Lizzy), Scott Speedman (Roy), Aaron Douglas (Jesse)

Sometimes the term “parental instinct” can be a bit of a misnomer. It doesn’t come naturally to everyone. Matter of fact, some are really, really bad at it. For those that might lack a proficient level of parental swagger, another strategy might be to take the cool parent approach. Low on discipline and drunk on fun.

Unfortunately for Lizzy, her mom, Kathy is just plain drunk. Her parents were probably pretty young when she was born, and both have moved on from one another. Lizzy is staying with her Mom and an intermittent boyfriend. Between the three of them, Lizzy is the most responsible, and definitely the most put upon. Every morning she plays the role of the only sober one after the party by cleaning up the empties, and waking up the inebriated.

Things are never good or even normal between her and her mom, and several flashbacks throughout the film play out a very abusive relationship built on unrequited love, and physical and mental abuse fueled by her mother’s alcohol addiction. So it may make for some awkward conversation in the car, when Kathy has to drive Lizzy to see her dad. He’s never seen, but the impression is that he’s remarried and is currently the only stable thing in Lizzy’s life. Deep down, Kathy knows that Lizzy really wants to live with him.

After a car accident, Kathy and Lizzy find themselves waiting on a tow truck to pick them and their car up. Watching in the woods is a monster that doesn’t seem to be too particular about its victims, but as the night plays out Kathy and Lizzy seem to be the most elusive ones, and a cat and mouse game ensues when their every chance to get away ending up getting killed, dismembered and wrecked.

This is a pretty poignant film wrapped in a creature feature package. As the monster stalks them, the range of emotions goes from dysfunctional to a realization that they might not have a lot of time left together, and that this might be the end. For Lizzy, it’s the feeling that her mother was a better person than her addictions allowed her to be, and for Kathy it’s the regret that it came to this for her to realize how much her daughter meant to her.

For anyone seeking this out as a straight up horror flick, they won’t be disappointed. It’s expertly paced with a deceptive lull in the beginning to build a vested interest in the lead characters, and then comes a barrage of one harrowing ordeal after another with the monster coming out of the shadows. I cared more about these characters than any other victims of mutated cross between Venom and a licker from Resident Evil that I’ve seen lately. I think it was very intentional in the writing and the casting was perfect. Ella Ballentine sells it as a good kid that doesn’t deserve the terrible mother she has, and Zoe Kazan projects an accepted misery that her demons have cost her everything.

It would be really easy to take the metaphoric road for the literal road they take to Lizzie’s dad’s house. It may be happenstance that they ended up there at a random time where there just happened to a monster in the woods. There wasn’t a lot of exposition about the road being infamous for monster encounters and the roadside assistance guy that comes to tow their car after the accident isn’t too worried about being mauled and/or eaten. He’s more ticked off about having to work in the rain. Maybe if one waxed more philosophical, what unfolds is a confluence of redemption and judgement for Kathy and a possible closure and release for Lizzy. Then again it may just be a monster like I said, and a classic case of being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Either way, this was a unique film that delivered a punch in the gut and a tug on the heartstrings.

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