The Monster (2016)

Okay, it takes a while to get going.

In fact, we are over a half an hour into the film before that monster finally makes an appearance.

But it is not exactly wasted time as we learn a lot about the troubled relationship between Lizzy and her alcoholic mother Kathy.  They are on a trip to deliver Lizzy to her Dad — a trip Lizzy never intends to return from — when their car hits a wolf which has strayed out into the middle of the road.

The two are unharmed, but the car won’t start.

Now we can argue about whether this one is science fiction or not.  There is a monster, which is clearly some sort of living being and not a supernatural apparition or whatever, but we are never given any sort of explanation of what it is or where it came from.  It could be an alien, or maybe a cryptid (and I’ll point out that its apelike, knuckle-walking stance reminds me just a little of the Jersey Devil in Dark Was the Night) but it really doesn’t matter.  We have a mother and her daughter, a lonely stretch of road and a monster.

I have to say that I love the way the thrills get paced here once things get going:  when things look at their worst, help shows up.

It just doesn’t work that well.

No matter how many times it happens.

For all the work that gets put into the strained relationship between father and daughter, I’ll confess that I’m just a little amused that, almost as soon as the accident happens, we see a very dramatic shift in Lizzy’s attitude as she becomes more and more attached to her mother — and worried about her.  I’m not entirely in agreement with those who’ve said that the movie makes Kathy far too unsympathetic from the start, and that the switch to making her more sympathetic doesn’t really work, although there is some truth to it.  It is a bit of a switch, but the flashbacks do ultimately reveal that Lizzy does actually love her irresponsible drunken mother — and that Kathy loves her, but her best efforts to change keep failing.  Even without these revelations, however, Lizzy’s change comes across more or less as the way a frightened child would react in that situation, clinging ever tighter to the only adult who is there to protect her.

While many of you may find The Monster a bit slow at first, once it gets going it never lets up.  The creature is quite impressive, and the director, Bryan Bertino, keeps it safely hidden for most of the film, only glimpsed as a dark and terrifying shape, or completely unseen with only the results of its actions visible.

However, the creature itself is excellent, with a strong and believable design, and something very primal and animalistic about it.  I particularly liked its pale blue eyes once we finally get a good look at the creature.  It appears to be all digital, but it has been well rendered and moves with ferocious ease, just the way a big predator would.

The Monster is, of course, a monster movie, even if it tries to be a bit more, but it is an exceptional monster movie, a better than average creature feature which takes a bit of time to flesh out its two main characters — and which is is good enough to turn its limited setting into one of the major strengths of the film, as Kathy and Lizzy struggle to find some way to escape this one short stretch of road.

And if you are looking for a little monster action, but hope to find something a little better than the typical, jump-scare-filled offerings out there, The Monster is a good place to start…

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