I remember in my early days of perusing Netflix in 2011 it was hard to find decent movies that I had no knowledge of. I know that makes no sense but let me explain.
Being engrossed in the movies and TV show realm is great but I feel like I am constantly searching for the feeling of watching a good movie that I am completely ignorant of. I am rarely surprised by movies anymore as I read up and know almost everything about a movie that I am interested in before it is released. When I learned a few years ago that Christopher Nolan was working on a World War II movie starring Tom Hardy, I made an effort to not look up or read anything about it to preserve just a sliver of this feeling.
In the past couple years I haven’t been able to experience that elation when discovering a movie that I have no knowledge of but am fairly confident it will be good. That is one reason in why I am drawn to horror movies, there are so many of them that it’s impossible to know about all of them, and if they are bad at least it will have gore and fun clichés to laugh at.
But I also don’t want to waste my time watching terrible movies all the time.
I know this doesn’t make a lot of sense but what I am trying to say is that A24 films opened up this hard to explain niche of under the radar movies that are really fucking good. When I see a movie with a cool thumbnail or poster that I haven’t heard of I often find out that it is an A24 film and they have a recent track record of funding dope ass movies like The Green Room, The Lobster, The Witch, Ex Machina, A Most Violent Year, Amy, Room, Into the Forrest, and the most recent academy award winner for best picture, Moonlight (I haven’t seen Moonlight yet).
A couple of nights ago when the NBA playoff game became a blowout I scrolled through the usual streaming apps in search of something to watch. On Amazon Prime I saw The Monster and did a quick google search. I don’t like the name of the movie as everyone is going to confuse with Monster with Charlize Theron, but when I saw A24 I read no more. I closed my phone and hit play on my cheap fire stick remote.
The Monster fucking rules. I admit a lot of my excitement for this movie is that I knew nothing about it and was able to go into it completely fresh, but it is objectively well made. A daughter and mother leave on a road trip in their car, hit a wolf on a secluded rood, and are stranded with a mysterious creature looming around. I love simple movie premises like this one. I watched The Monster a few hours after watching The Shallows which both combined to form a gnarly movie night.
There is a lot of creepy imagery, gore, and anxiety in The Monster, but what makes it memorable and worth watching is the characterization. The daughter and mother have a strained relationship that is exposed through flashbacks scattered throughout the movie. These flashbacks are equally as horrifying as the situation on the road and are impossible to look away from.
If you haven’t already watched The Monster and read this far I have already stolen the feeling that I tried to explain at the beginning of the post. Go watch the movie now as I am going to delve into spoilers.
Let’s get it out of the way first and talk about the monster itself. The first glimpse of the creature is so god damn scary. The daughter (Lizzy) was in the fringe of the forest off the side of the road looking at the wolf that had disappeared from the road. Over her shoulder a large shadowy figure turns its head and reveals its teeth. This was an awesome way of introducing the monster to the audience as up to that point there was only enough evidence to speculate that something nefarious was afoot. This shot confirmed the suspicions that a monster is roaming around killing shit.
Later in the movie the monster is fully revealed. It looks like a mutant bear with massive teeth and I think it had wings or webbed front legs similar to a flying squirrel (I noticed the webbing at the end of the movie while Lizzy was killing it). The monster had no fur, just an oily black skin all over its body allowing it to blend into the night.
The monster had zero CG from what I could tell. The real effects were amazing and I was pleasantly surprised to see the film makers go the extra mile and make an actual old school monster free of CG.
Child actors are notorious for ruining movies but 14 year old Elle Ballentine was impressive in her portrayal of Lizzy. Her relationship with her mother, played by Zoe Kazan, is the best feature of the movie.. The monster and rainy forest were just compliments to the complicated relationship between Lizzy and her mother. In the end Lizzy’s mother died with intentions of saving Lizzy, but Lizzy had to kill the monster on her own and move on with her life. Lizzy emerging from the forest as the sun rose after saying good bye to her mom and killing the monster invoked a feeling of freedom. Lizzy wasn’t just free of the monster, she was free from her mother.
The flashbacks of Lizzy dealing with her alcoholic and abusive mother are painful to watch. The monster dismembering Jesse the tow truck driver and eating him from the feet up was easier to watch than Lizzy being told by her mother that she hates her while being slapped. The scene of the paramedics being thrown through the air and killed was less traumatic to witness than Lizzy walking up to her blacked out drunk mother with a knife, pressing it against her neck and saying “I hate you.” Those flashbacks are the heaviest of heavy.
One subtle moment impressed me in The Monster. The initial crash that caused Lizzy and her mother to hit the wolf in the middle of the road was unexplained. They were driving down the road, something caused them to spin out and then they hit a wolf. This was the first hint of the monster, something caused the car to spin out in a violent manner (not the rainy wet roads) before hitting the animal standing in the road.
As Lizzy and her mother attempted to drive away in the ambulance, the film makers confirmed what the monster did to cause the crash.. The monster catapulted into the side of the ambulance and forced them to crash, similar to hitting their car earlier.
Watching movies like The Monster reminds me of why I became enamored with movies 7 or 8 years ago. The Monster inspires creativity and unearths emotion. I really liked this movie.