My latest discovery on Netflix is The Monster, Bryan Bertino’s (The Strangers) 2016 offering shot in Canada. Made a shoestring budget of under $3 million, Mr. Bertino packed The Monster with tension and atmosphere belying it’s meager cost.
Zoe Kazan plays Kathy, an alcoholic single mother who is largely failing at her job. Zoe is the granddaughter of Elia Kazan (1909-2003) who directed the classics, On the Waterfront, A Streetcar Named Desire, and East of Eden, among others. Her daughter Lizzy, a girl forced into maturity beyond her years is adeptly played by Ellen Ballentine (Time Tremors, Anne of Green Gables) Right off the bat I was impressed with the serious take on the “monster” genre. This is not a film of cheap scares or over the top violence. The story is steeped in symbolism, with the opening part of the movie dealing with the difficult past home life that Lizzy endured. The product of parents who are addicts and care more about getting high or drinking than their child, Lizzy is subjected to verbal and even physical abuse all the while still maintaining her innocent love of her family. The obvious parallel here is the parents are themselves complete monsters and Lizzy must first survive them before her encounter with a more physical monster.
The parents, now separated, live hours apart. Lizzy pries her mother out of bed on the weekend to drive her to her scheduled visitation with her now apparently in recovery father. After a very late start they begin the drive. The journey is long and awkwardly quiet until the mother confronts her daughter with the accusation she knows she won’t be returning home this time and that she will now be living with her father. Instead of finding a hotel for the night, Lizzy presses her mother continue the drive. It is raining and while on a secluded road the car hits a large animal and blows a tire. Getting out to investigate they discover that they hit a very large wolf. Upon closer inspection they realize the wolf had been mauled in a fight with something much larger. Now stranded without a working car, they call for emergency services, but due to the poor weather and a large accident on the interstate, their rescue is many hours off.
Without spoiling the actual monster part of this monster movie, I will say that the stage set by the night time rain on a rural road was both isolating and provided and excellent backdrop for the story to unfold. The monster was done well enough and you do get to see it clearly. There are some very tense scenes where the mother and daughter must come to terms with their relationship in between fending off attacks from this mysterious creature. I was waiting for the twist ending where all this was some huge metaphor or a dream the little girl was having about both of the abusive parents, but luckily was not let down in that way. I largely enjoyed the movie and give it kudos for the very gritty take on not only the monster movie genre, but also not shying away from the story of how damaging it is for someone when a family member is dealing with the demons of addiction. Do yourself a favor and give The Monster a watch on Netflix.