Two strong performances carry Bryan Bertino's (The Strangers) latest movie, simply titled The Monster, through some dank and dirty terrain. The set up is straightforward enough; a broken down car, a rainy, deserted back road and a killer on the loose. In The Monster, however, the killer in question is a genuine monster and not just the figurative kind. Spending the first half of the movie lurking in the shadows, the very first glimpse of The Monster is reminiscent of H.R. Giger's original Alien creation, which bodes well for the rest of the movie.
After hitting a wolf in the road, a reluctant mother and her put upon daughter are forced to fight for their lives against a formidable foe. Regular flashbacks provide our two leads, Kathy (Zoe Kazan) and her daughter Lizzy (Ella Ballentine), with a ballsy back story. In truth, The Monster is at its best when it strays away from genre convention, and the flashbacks provide Kazan and Ballentine with the meatiest scenes. Not bad for a movie with a flesh eating monster.
The Monster isn't just a monster movie though. At its heart, Bryan Bertino has delivered a hard-hitting drama about motherhood. Kathy is a bad mom. A really bad mom. She is fully aware of this though, which is why she is taking Lizzy on a road trip to live with her father. Both girls are fantastic in their roles, especially Kazan. Kathy has never had the courage to fight for anything in her short, miserable life. She's a selfish addict and a terrible parent, but can she overcome her shortcomings in order to save her daughter?
Unfortunately, that's where The Monster loses momentum. As cool as the monster effects are at first, its the mother/daughter relationship that has the real teeth. The final act is a little too formulaic, unlike the gritty flashbacks, and genuine scares are few and far between. The monster of the title too, effective in the shadows, looks far less menacing as the climax rears its ugly head. In fact, it very much resembles the man-in-rubber-suit Alien finale. Maybe we should give the effects team the benefit of the doubt and call it a nod to Ridley Scott's masterpiece. Perhaps not.
Two strong leads and an effective first act can't disguise the fact that The Monster is a pedestrian horror movie. At just over 80 minutes long it doesn't outstay its welcome, but the quality dips whenever Kazan is off screen. Worth a look but ultimately forgettable.