I can’t say that I ever really believed in monsters. I was a fearless kid who mistrusted the real world too much to focus on unimaginable creatures. I’ve always been under the impression that the things that “could’ lurk in the shadows were never as scary as the terrors the real world might produce. Don’t get me wrong, I still cannot sleep with my feet dangling over the edge of my bed (because if monsters were real, they would live there for sure), and drives along dark, wooded roads freak me out enough to subconsciously lock my doors. But I recognized that those fears are related more to the fear of unknown rather than belief that monsters exist to cause me harm.
Despite my own disbelief, I am a sucker for monster movies and films about things that reside in the dark. There is nothing more terrifying than the unknown wreaking havoc and forcing people to confront horrors they never knew existed. Movies like The Host, Godzilla, Cloverfield, and The Thing, exemplify monster horror done well. They perfectly depict monstrous entities, acting on their primitive need to survive…even if that means killing and destroying everything in its way. Horror movies are in many ways manifestations of our deepest and most primitive fears and there’s nothing more terrifying than living in world where creatures, rarely seen, may exist. These movies also reveal the greater human fear that in order to survive a monster you may have to become one to eventually defeat it.
The Monster, directed by Bryan Bertino (best known for The Strangers) upholds the genre well with his gruesome and tension-filled horror movie about a mother and daughter stranded in the woods with a monster on the loose. Kathy and Lizzy are a family at odds. Kathy (played brilliantly by Zoe Kazan) is a single mother struggling to raise her young daughter Lizzy who is at the age where it’s more than acceptable to resent your parents. In this case though, Lizzy has every reason to despise her mother who is emotionally unavailable to care for her.
Following an explosive argument with Kathy, Lizzy decides she wants to stay with her estranged father. Kathy knows she is unfit to care for her daughter and agrees that Lizzy might be better off with her father. Though resigned and upset about her daughter’s decision, Kathy intends to drive Lizzy to her father’s house, so that she may stay with him permanently. The drive should only take about four hours, but on the way, they get into an accident, which leaves them stranded in the middle of an empty road. Neither are seriously injured but they decide to wait for help in their car, unaware that they are now prey to a monster stalking the woods.
The Monster is a complex and terrifying movie and one that should be viewed a few times. It is fantastic and inherently scary because the danger and terror that await Kathy and Lizzy is hard to watch. The monster itself is stuff of nightmares and there are some gruesome scenes that made me squirm. What’s even worse is watching the mother and daughter team finally come together while this grotesque animal stalks the woods and their car for much of the movie.
What I loved about The Monster is that it cuts from the real-time horror of their situation to flashbacks of equally horrifying exchanges between Kathy and Lizzy. Moments where mother and daughter hurl insults and cry and act monstrously out of fear of losing one another. This is a film that uses the tension between the two and the tension of their life or death situation to reveal that monsters (both human and un-human) are real, but that only some can come back from the damage and destruction it leaves in its path.
The Monster will be available on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD on January 24 from Lionsgate.
Repulsive Rating: 4 torn windpipes out of 5.