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The Monster (2016)

A mother and daughter must confront a terrifying monster when they break down on a deserted road.


Beginning with mother and daughter, Kathy and Lizzie, going on a roadtrip, the movie starts pretty simply. The two of them clearly have some bonding issues, but call me a cynical movie hack, I figured this would play into the plot later - some sort of redemption arc. Then as they travel through the night they strike a wolf standing in the road and crash.

But there is something else out there too.

Writer/director Bryan Bertino (The Strangers) is no stranger (pun intended) to this sort of isolation horror. And he's damn good at it, too. It's not easy keeping a woman and child as pretty much the lone cast members sitting in a car in the rain for large portions of the runtime, and making it gripping. And this is gripping as all hell.

In the car is mother, Zoe Kazan (In Your Eyes), playing a deeply broken character. She was clearly never meant for suburban motherhood, with drink and drug problems from the get go. Daughter Lizzie is played by Ella Ballentine (The Captive), the more mature of the two, certainly. And the film falls to the two of them to carry it. The casting is spot on. Not only are they believably within the dynamic of parent/child, but they sell the scary. Both actors are on top form, and what supporting characters do turn up are fantastic.

Flooded with atmosphere, The Monster has its 91 minutes broken up with flashbacks. Serving the purpose of giving the viewer backstory, and a sense of empathy for Lizzie is good, although in this situation not wholly necessary, but I can see why it's there. I would have preferred more exposition heavy bouts of dialogue in the present, than flashing to the past to be shown it, breaking every rule in the show-don't-tell book. But it does take you out of the moment.

The "monster" is never explained - no heavy handed barrels of toxic waste lingered on by the camera, which is great - I don't need a Prometheus for every alien. It skulks in the shadows for the bulk of the film and is extremely effective. Sadly, like all one shot encounter movies the monster is seen clearly in the finale, and, let's say that is should have stayed in the shadows for effect.

These are but minor niggles in the big scheme of things though. The writing and direction are spot on, the casting is fabulous - it's grim, gritty, and above all scary.

And I really felt for Jesse. He must have lost his watch and everything.

A must see Friday night horror movie.

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