Guys and gals, Bryan Bertino needs a hug. Between The Strangers, Mockingbird and his latest, The Monster, the director is practically begging us to seek him out, pat him on the back and assure him that everything is going to be okay. The bright side being that he's 3 for 3 in delivering effective and emotionally charged genre efforts.
This time Zoe Kazan steps into Bertino's chamber of emotional distress as Kathy the young and troubled mother of Lizzie (Ella Ballentine). While on a road trip to take Lizzie to her father, possibly for good, the mother-daughter duo are beset by a car accident that leaves them stranded on a deserted road in a long stretch of wilderness. With help on the way they find themselves in a fight for survival from a vicious monster lurking in the woods.
Bertino's films to this point have at least two (if not more) things in common. They wade heavily in mean spirited waters and they do not end happily. There's nothing in the rule book that says the director has to adhere to giving the audience a warm fuzzy, but even a smidge of light hearted fun in the midst of all this doom and gloom wouldn't hurt. Bertino sets the tone early with a hard to watch shouting match between Lizzie and Kathy that's oozing with tension. It's a taste of the tragic familial strife that simultaneously adds layers to their dynamic.
Lizzie and Kathy's struggle to survive is broken up with flashbacks to how their relationship has unfolded to this point. Kathy's powder keg temper and alcoholism chipping away at Lizzie's innocent childhood, but the youngster's tender heart still shining through as she cuddles her drunk and vomiting mother on the bathroom floor after a drinking binge. Kathy being a young and unprepared mother struggling with her responsibility but at times recognizes the harm she's causing her daughter in some of the films most fragile, heartbreaking and human moments. Kazan and Ballentine make for a potent one-two punch. The duo flex through a healthy amount of powerful emotions through the course of 90 minutes all the while a theme heavy lumbering beast mauls well-to-doers trying to assist them. Most importantly, the bloodshed never managers to upheave the dramatic heft of Bertino's story.
Impressive practical effects take the stage whenever the titular monster graces the screen- accompanied by a tremendous sound design. However, hiccups ensue when the slimy beast catches extended amounts of time within the frame leaving a little too much room to reveal the rubbery flaws in its design. Regardless, Bertino and company deliver a savage and formidable movie monster that's sure to please genre fans. However, it's the writer/director's ability to make a small scale film feel much larger and grounded in reality in spite of the fact that a hulked out killing machine is stomping around in the slickly shot, rain soaked darkness.
Bertino is proving to be adept at navigating a small cast through single locations. There's a challenge in delivering an engrossing 90 minute chiller with limited moving pieces. The Monster is an effective, emotionally charged creature feature that's bolstered by a pair of terrific performances by Kazan and Ballentine. Now get out there and give Bertino that deep meaningful hug he so desperately needs.