VOD Review: The Monster.
Intriguing characters and an eerie setting can’t overcome a flawed final act in this budget horror film.
As we continue spring cleaning, I’m noticing two things: most of the movies I gave a nod to but didn’t see are horror films, and most of them suffer from a major flaw that sours the experience. Last week we looked at Green Room, which I ultimately liked based on the strength of its third act. The set up was drawn out, and it didn’t really focus until the last 45 minutes, but a great cast and strong finish saved it. The Monster, starring Zoe Kazan, has exactly the opposite problem.
The Monster is a nice twist on some familiar horror staples. You have a mother and child as protagonists, you have a skulking monster in the woods, and you have a claustrophobic setting where our heroes are trapped. To its credit, it does quite a lot with those elements. The characters are complex and flawed, and I enjoyed seeing them develop as the stakes got higher. Being trapped in a car, you have a nice twist on the lost in the woods trope. The monster isn’t anything to look at, but is used effectively until the end. At least it’s not the garbage looking creature from Dark was the Night!
…And in the end, the wheels completely come off this film and wreck what was an engaging experience.
The Monster (2016)
Kathy is a hot mess. A young mother who torpedoed her marriage due to alcoholism, she’s a terrible role model. Her daughter is the adult in the situation, at a tender age, and has to drag her out of the bed, clean her vomit, and get her into any semblance of normalcy. Fed up, she’s arranged to live with her estranged father. Kathy agrees to drive her, and opts to take the back roads to avoid a free-way clogged by an accident. In the woods, in the dark, they strike a wolf and total their car. When they investigate, they find that something bigger and meaner than the timber wolf is out in the darkness, waiting for them.
Setting the Table.
While the acting in this film is not top notch, it is fine. The characters are such damaged people, they’re intriguing even when the performances are not compelling. The real star of the show is the script, which nicely interlaces present day events with flashbacks, giving proportion and substance to these people. We see them struggling and failing and being nasty, but we also get a few tender moments. They feel alive and complex.
The use of flashback helps the director, Bryan Bertino, to escape the shackles of his self imposed setting. In the woods, at night, trapped in a car, there aren’t a lot of places to go except straight into a confrontation with the monster. The ability to bounce around in time allows an outlet for the pressure cooker he’s building not to explode.
Stirring the Pot.
I love how the setting of the film becomes the main driver of tension. Much like Stephen King’s Cujo, being trapped in the car really becomes harrowing. To avoid many of the slower elements of Cujo, Bertino borrows a technique used in last summer’s horror thriller, The Shallows: he arranges new vehicles to arrive in a staggered order, and these become islands that the pair must flee to in order to avoid the monster. The rationale behind the new cars (and victims!) is solid and well employed.
This film has a firm handle on its pacing. The set up is neither drawn out nor rushed, making sure we’re engaged, if not invested, in our leads. The rising action is punctuated by fresh elements as it builds to a crescendo, where we know that Kathy is going to have to do something, or else they will both die. The movie has a solid start and middle…it just crashes and burns into its ending.
Burning the Roast.
A bad finale is certainly nothing new in horror films, and sometimes it doesn’t even ruin the piece. So many of the best-loved franchises like Scream, Final Destination, and even A Nightmare on Elm Street devolve into insane endings, yet still have their charm. The problem with The Monster is that the ending is so uncharacteristically bad, it voids the events that set it up.
The final act of this film ruins everything good the film had going: the characters stop feeling real and start feeling like idiot monster fodder you’d find in generic creature films. The little girl, in particular, regresses into a screaming, blubbering little shit who gets everyone around her killed. The monster, who had been stalking and hunting like a true predator, just turns into a raging demon who attacks a massive ambulance…despite not ripping the doors off the crappy station wagon they’ve been hiding in all movie. The island of cars that the film had been developing ends up being meaningless when they find a miracle weapon in the final car. It’s so convenient, tired and false that it torpedoes the production.
Call for Take-Out.
The Monster really frustrates me. It was extremely compelling right up until the final twenty minutes. The pieces felt like they were all coming together, but then the tower gets smashed to hell just to have a big bang ending and some really lame confrontation. The final scene adds insult to injury, since it looks like a flashback but could only be real if one character is speaking from the dead. Never mind that you could literally have had that same scene embedded in the film with a death-bed heart-to-heart, and that it would have made more sense and actually set up the ending better.
I wish I could recommend this film, but the final result just botches it beyond repair. It’s a shame, since there are certainly some really nice elements here. It’s free on Amazon Prime, so if you don’t mind an insulting ending, then go ahead and fire it up to enjoy the first half. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.