The Monster Review: Zoe Kazan delivers a powerhouse performance
In a righteous world, actress Zoe Kazan would win some kind of big time award for her disarming turn in director Bryan Bertino‘s new horror drama The Monster. The movie casts the always magnetic Kazan as Kathy, an alcoholic single mother who is at the end of her rope. The dynamic with her daughter Lizzy (Ella Ballentine, who is an equally alarming revelation) is strained and volatile and from the heart-wrenching opening scenes, it’s clear that the child has become the parent. When Kathy insists on driving the girl to her father’s house late at night, they take a wrong turn, blow their tire and crash into a ditch on a lonely, lost highway and the pair are forced to confront each other… and the titular murderous monster.
What the monster is, where it comes from or what motivates its attack is not explained. And that’s a good thing. Because if it was, the power of the picture would be diminished. Like in Bertino’s breakthrough film, the home invasion nerve shredder The Strangers, the threat is akin to a force of nature, a device that serves to unite and/or destroy the protagonists. Which is not to say that the monster itself is not scary. Left mostly in shadows, glistening, growling and uncoiling, it’s a terrifying presence. But the terror that Bertino so skillfully milks really comes from the creature’s affect on the psyches of Kazan and her little girl and the dark places it forces them to go. It’s a kind of supernatural, primal therapist, really.
We cannot stress enough just how brilliant Kazan is in The Monster. This is a full throttle, fevered and ferocious multi-layered performance, a portrait of a broken woman who keeps trying to do the right thing but her anger, her hurt and the drain of her addiction sabotages her at every turn. She’s matched by Ballentine, who personifies the pain of a child whose world has been broken, whose parents have abandoned her emotionally and who has had to grow up far too quickly. One scene early on sees a battle of wills between Kathy and Lizzy illustrated by them screaming profanities at each other and it’s a hard to watch, verbally and emotionally violent but stunningly orchestrated sequence that, in the hands of lesser actresses and a lesser director, might be laughable. It’s not laughable. At all.
There really isn’t much else to say about The Monster (which was filmed under the title There Are Monsters) because, like The Strangers, it’s a minimalist horror film, driven by mood, suspense and sound and needs to be experienced. And if you’re a serious horror movie fan, you need to experience it. It’s a lean, visceral, emotionally shattering master class in tension and character. And Kazan once more proves that she is one of the most talented performers of her generation.
The Monster is available now on DIRECTV and hits theaters and On Demand on November 11th.