In an opening voiceover reflecting Newt's conversation with Ripley in Aliens, young Lizzy reveals that, when her mother had always said that there are no such things as monsters, she had lied. The Monster sees that lie played out.
The basic premise is a familiar one. Lizzy and her Mum Kathy are on a long journey through deserted nighttime roads in the rain. When they hit a wolf and their car stops, it soon becomes clear that they are not alone. And whatever is in the woods is hungry...
So far, so standard. But what makes The Monster so much better than you might have expected and a claw-shaped cut above the rest is the influence of The Babadook. Because The Monster isn't content with dealing only with traditional horror film beasts. Instead, it takes a good look at the monsters we face in our daily lives too.
Via flashbacks, Lizzy and Kathy are revealed to be a mother and daughter in utter crisis. Kathy is a recovering and sometimes lapsing alcoholic and her relationship with her daughter is as drained as the bottom of a whiskey bottle. We see the pair fighting, screaming and hating each other. At one point, Lizzy holds a knife to her passed out Mum's throat whispering 'I hate you' over and over. In fact, their road trip is happening so that Lizzy can go and live with her estranged father. The scenes between the pair are brutal and brilliantly acted.
So when the accident happens and the monster eventually reveals itself, with all pretense of daily life shattered, the rediscovered and innate love that the pair have for each other gives the need to survive an extra urgency, taking on a dimension which would be lacking had the pair been a traditional loving family. Somehow this gives the stakes a heightened emotional wallop.
As played by Zoe Kazan and Ella Ballentine (bringing to mind what you'd think Brie Larson would have been like as a child), Kathy and Lizzy are flawed and, at times, totally unsympathetic, and it's a credit to writer / director Bryan Bertino and to the actors that you care so much for them. The performances are superb. There's an interesting play on roles here too. The child has to lead at the start of the film, her mother incapable of getting out of bed, let alone cleaning their home, and it seems for while that this is how the film will play out. But once they are under attack, the mother's instincts kick in and Lizzy reverts to being a child. The strength she showed in dealing with her sometimes monstrous mother will come back to help her though.
We see perhaps a little too much of the monster towards the end but it's still a genuinely menacing beast, but it's the relationship between the mother and daughter, fighting their own monsters, which makes the film resonate beyond the frights.
THE MONSTER / CERT: TBA / DIRECTOR &
SCREENPLAY: BRYAN BERTINO / STARRING: ZOE KAZAN, ELLA BALLENTINE, AARON
DOUGLAS, CHRISTINE EBADI, SCOTT SPEEDMAN, CHRIS WEBB / RELEASE DATE: TBA
Expected Rating: 6/10