What I'm Watching: The Monster
"The Monster" is a movie that's been getting a lot of positive buzz, and as a fan of Zoe Kazan's, and the premise looked interesting, it was a sure thing for me to check out.
The plot is very basic. A failing mother and her daughter are on a back road one night, when they swerve to try and avoid a wolf in the road. They fail miserably, and while waiting for help to come, things take a nasty turn when the monster the wolf is running from comes back for its second course of people in a can.
For all the positive buzz this movie had, I was really hoping for something special, and "The Monster" just did not live up to the hype for me. I don't hate it, but I don't love it either.
First of all, like I said, the plot is very simple, and the movie spends the first act just sitting in the car and talking. Things are tense enough, and both actors are good enough, that it just barely holds my attention, but the slow burn definitely started getting to me.
The simplicity of the plot leads to no major twists, which certainly twists do not a good movie make, but it is just a basic story of survival. Who escapes from the monster, and how? And the answer to those questions are not terribly compelling.
It's also rough that one of your lead characters is almost completely unlikable. Zoe's character drinks, she smokes, she's completely monstrous to her daughter, and I just could not get behind her. Zoe sells it amazingly well, and it does lead to a solid redemption in the end, but what I found was that I wanted more. I wanted to know WHY she was horrible. What tragedy in her life made her this way? The movie provides flashbacks that you would think might flesh that out, but instead just highlight even more how horrible of a person Kathy is. Oh, and we meet the father who is equally as horrible. How the heck the kid ended up as good natured and well adjusted as she did is a miracle and a wonder. The flashbacks really serve very little purpose beyond that. They certainly have their place, and at least broke up the sitting in the car and talking, but they left me wanting more. Which is something. I left the movie wanting to know more about Kathy and her history, so I was at least invested on some level.
Ella Ballentine as the daughter is also exceptional. You can see the conflict of love and hate she has for her mother, and the fear she has of both her and the monster in the woods. Her performance alone made this a better watch than I found the Babadook to be.
The story is still well told though, and for what it is, it's solid. The monster is good (Although I wish we saw more of it. I didn't realise the thing had flying squirrel like wing flaps until I watched the making of feature), and suitably threatening. The action is solid, and the dialogue is great.
But the entire package never quite came together for a compelling whole for me. Now, to be fair, I clearly went into this expecting one movie, and getting something else in return. With the quality of the filmmaking and acting, now that I know just what the movie is, I feel like this movie could grow on me and I accept it for itself, with repeat viewings. Like I said, I don't hate this movie, it just didn't wow me yet.
I do still absolutely recommend it, because it is so well crafted and acted, and while it didn't grab me right away, I know people will absolutely enjoy this. There's absolutely nothing wrong with a simple story of survival. It's one of the basic types of stories, man vs. nature. And I do appreciate upping things from a bear in the woods to something that's more of an actual monster.
So absolutely check this out if you're a fan of the actors or the story sounds interesting, because I can't fault a movie for not doing what I wanted it to. And I definitely do want to watch it again.