Kathy, portrayed by Emmy nominee Zoe Kazan (Olive Kitteridge), is a divorced, neglectful mother, who frequently smokes, and drinks to the point of passing out. The young, but willful, Lizzy, played by Ella Ballentine (Anne of Green Gables), acts more like the parent in the relationship. She cleans up the beer and liquor bottles scattered about their home, tries to encourage Kathy to quit drinking, and is there to curl up next to her mother while she is passed out on the kitchen floor, having once again succumbed to her addiction. The aforementioned is shown via flashbacks, a technique which is used throughout the film. At the start of the film, the viewer will learn that the relationship between Kathy and Lizzy, is a contentious and volatile one. Additional incidents from the past are also used to reinforce the tenor of their relationship. For example, in one scene, Lizzy insists her mother not drive her to her play, or for that matter, attend the performance. The reaction Lizzy receives after stating her feelings to Kathy is filled with a verbal tirade of expletives. Furthermore, there is a scene where Lizzy is holding a knife too close to her sleeping mother’s face, where one slip of her hand, or Kathy waking up with a sudden movement could cause serious damage. Those toxic moments from the past, combined with other factors, have led Lizzy to make the decision that she wants to go live with her father, Roy (Scott Speedman). Mother and daughter, set out on a road trip, later than Lizzy would’ve liked because Kathy forgot to set her alarm, and is slow to move, due to her hangover. (As an aside: Golden Globe winner, Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men) was originally cast in the role of Kathy).
During a stop at a gas station, Kathy hands Lizzy a wristwatch that belonged to her mother. The explanation Kathy gives Lizzy as to why she’s giving her the watch, is because she knows Lizzy is not coming back to live with her. Lizzy neither confirms nor denies Kathy’s statement. Later that evening, while driving in the rain, along a wooded road, that is no longer frequently traveled, Kathy’s car hits a wolf. The automobile goes into a tail spin, is damaged in the process, and Kathy suffers a minor injury to her wrist. Lizzy, who is shaken up, but appears to be okay, calls 911, and a tow truck and ambulance are dispatched to their location, but Lizzy is told it will take some time before they arrive. Kathy and Lizzy get out to observe the condition of the wolf, which appears dead, however, a short while after returning to their car, they notice that the wolf is no longer laying in the road. Kathy reasons that it probably just limped off to go die in the woods. Lizzy, however, who sometimes clings to a stuffed animal – a dog that chimes music – and believes in the validity of monsters, is not so certain.
After a bit of time passes, the tow truck arrives, and the driver, Jesse (Aaron Douglas), assesses the situation. While underneath, Kathy’s car, fixing some damage, he hears noises that sound like they are coming from an animal. He shines his light in the direction he think he hears the noises coming from. During this time, the creature, which other than its propensity for inflicting harm, its dislike of bright light, and its appearance, the viewer learns almost nothing about, has attacked Jesse. Wherever the creature has taken him off to, he hasn’t killed him. A short while later, Jesse manages to crawl toward the open door of his tow truck; he is already missing an arm. The same arm, that was hurled by the creature, onto the windshield of Kathy’s car, causing both she and Lizzy to scream wildly. There is not much they can do to help Jesse. Kathy beeps her car horn, but it does nothing to stop the creature’s attack, and, if the creature was not already aware of the two females, it merely alerts the monster to their presence.
The monster does, indeed, become interested in Kathy and Lizzy. Their last best hope is the arrival of the ambulance, but the EMT’s don’t take heed of Kathy’s warning that they have to get moving immediately. Sadly, both technicians, who were there to help Lizzy and Kathy, wind up becoming victims of the creature. Credit must be given to Kathy’s character; despite the personal strife between she and Lizzy, once an outside force seeks to hurt her daughter, Kathy abandons her self-centeredness, and is willing to put herself in harm’s way to protect Lizzy. Taking it upon herself, Kathy puts the ambulance in drive and speeds off, thinking that she and her daughter’s arduous nightmare is at an end, but not so fast. Within no time at all, the monster has attacked the ambulance, causing it to land on its side.
Will Kathy and Lizzy survive their ordeal? Is the key to their escape surviving until day time, when the monster goes off to hide in darkness? Are the mother and daughter rescued by other people? What means of fighting the creature do Kathy and Lizzy have at their disposal? Can they formulate a plan to kill the monster? Do they have to take a more radical approach, so that one of them can go off and seek help? If Kathy and Lizzy do manage to make it out of their horrific situation, can their relationship as mother and daughter be salvaged? The answers are provided by the film’s conclusion.
“The Monster” premiered during the Beyond Fest, in Los Angeles, California on October 6, 2016. The film was both written for the screen, and directed by Bryan Bertino (The Strangers). The movie comprises the genres of drama and horror, and has an approximate runtime of 91 minutes. I read mixed reviews about the film, before having the opportunity to sit down and watch it this past Friday evening. Several reviewers I read labeled it as a boring waste of time, while others found it to be quite laudable. My general opinion of the film was that it was certainly not great, but nor was it bad. I felt that Kazan and Ballentine had excellent on-screen chemistry, and both gave convincing performances. Additionally, I thought the atmosphere, tone, and the filmmakers opting not to use jump scares when it came to utilizing the monster were all good choices. I wasn’t enamored with the film, nor like some, did I think it was a metaphor for alcohol addiction. Leaving that aside however, although for me, I feel it will be a one-time only viewing, I was entertained by the movie, and sometimes that is all I need to be, when watching a film.