Terrifying, intelligent horror film The Monster is now on Blu-ray
We raved about Bryan Bertino‘s domestic drama/horror thriller The Monster last November when the film saw its limited theatrical and digital release. But admittedly, we’re bummed that we had to throw the word “limited” in there. With so much genre pablum being shoveled into theaters on a grand scale, tepid junk like the Underworld and Resident Evil sequels or Rings or take-your-weekly-pick, it was disheartening to see such a thoughtful, stylish, scary and expertly performed piece like The Monster go virtually unnoticed.
But those that did see the film – well, most of them – were moved by it. And even the few who didn’t adore the movie were still affected by its lead performance by actress Zoe Kazan. And now that the film has hit Blu-ray (albeit a dissapointingly bare bones DVD with only a small EPK featurette on the back end), those who missed it the first round have no excuse not to check it out, now in sumptuous high definition with punishing 5.1 DTS sound.
In The Monster, Kazan plays 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 murderous monster of the title.
Like in Bertino’s breakthrough film, the home invasion nerve shredder The Strangers, the threat in The Monster is not defined by exposition. We don’t need to “know” it. It’s just there, left mostly in shadows, glistening, growling and uncoiling. It’s a terrifying presence, but more upsetting is the slow burn build up to its appearance, as the volatile relationship between parent and child (which is which?) is flesh out with fragments of memory drawing back to the present.
And again, Kazan. What a presence. 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.
We said it before and now, after enjoying this perfect, sophisticated horror film again, we can reiterate just how masterful and essential The Monster is. I think it’s destined to become a classic, as it should.