Reviews and entertainment articles by Dave Simpson
While most moviegoers are flocking to find fantastic beasts and getting ready to join up with Jyn Erso, one of the year’s most superb cinematic offerings has been unceremoniously overlooked. When I decided to investigate The Monster on a lazy Sunday afternoon, I really wasn’t expecting to unearth anything more than a mildly entertaining B-movie at best. However, what I found was a film that far surpasses almost all of 2016’s highest grossing blockbusters.
To say that this movie is simply the story of a supernatural creature terrorising two people in the woods would be to do it a tremendous disservice. What writer/director Bryan Bertino has actually delivered is an incredibly compelling character drama with paranormal elements buried in the background.
That being said, The Monster still manages to be more atmospheric and unsettling than most modern horror movies. It achieves this not by jamming in jump scares or going overboard with the gore, but by meticulously exploring the disturbingly disruptive relationship between the mother and daughter around which the narrative revolves.
It’s obvious from the offset that the former is a reprehensible parent with a plethora of personal problems and even though my initial instinct was to detest her for the abhorrent way in which she treats her child, it’s a testament to both the writing abilities of Bertino and the acting skills of Zoe Sazan that it becomes increasingly difficult to dislike her as the story advances.
Every so often, we’re reminded through flashbacks of Kathy’s unconscionably callous approach to parenting, but the occasional recollection of tender moments with her daughter coupled with her impeccably executed arc of redemption demonstrates that deep down, she is an individual of integrity. Despite the fact that she’s committed an abundance of unforgivable offences in the past, you can’t help but admire the lengths to which she’s willing to go to ensure her child’s safety in the present.
As exceptional a job as Sazan does though, it’s the phenomenal performance of Ella Ballentine as Kathy’s daughter, Lizzy, that really endows the movie with emotional depth. The outstanding young actress succeeds in making Lizzy seem simultaneously mature beyond her years and as vulnerable as you’d expect a child of abuse to be, which results in a strong-willed yet extremely sympathetic protagonist about whom it is impossible not to care.
Watching as Lizzy attempts to play parent to her own mother and is awarded with nothing but disappointment and dejection for her efforts is likely to leave you with a lump in your throat due to the astonishing authenticity of Ballentine’s acting. At the same time, the scenes in which Lizzy and Kathy display genuine affection for each other are truly heartwarming, particularly during an instance when the former finds the latter asleep on the bathroom floor and the pulse-pounding but poignant climactic confrontation with the titular creature.
Speaking of which, even though it does indeed feature a physical monster, it quickly becomes apparent that this movie is much more metaphorical in nature. At first I thought the title was linked to Kathy’s cruelty towards her daughter, but as the plot progressed, I came to the conclusion that the eponymous predator is actually representative of everything that is wrong with each of their lives and all that they need to overcome in order to resolve their issues and escape the toxicity of their existence.
Unfortunately I can’t elaborate any further without veering into spoiler territory, but the fact that The Monster provides so much food for thought while also adeptly developing its dual protagonists makes for an absolutely enthralling tale of atonement and perseverance. Between Bertino’s stellar screenwriting and Ballentine and Sazan’s spectacularly affecting performances, this may well be the most meaningful movie to have arrived this year. If you haven’t seen it yet, then I recommend you do so immediately.
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