Director: Bryan Bertino
Year of release: 2016
Running time: 1 hour 31 minutes
Genre fans who appreciate thematic richness along with atmospheric dread will be encouraged by the way Bryan Bertino's The Monster exists as both a devastating mother-daughter story as well as slow-burn horror film. Honestly, the relationship between alcoholic mother Kathy (Zoe Kazan) and her daughter, Lizzy (Ella Ballentine) is the film, and if that central dynamic doesn't work, no amount of spooky imagery will matter. This is what separates The Monster from most standard horror fare; the brutal, emotionally honest interplay between mother and daughter creates a coiling feeling of tension which cheap jump scares or a foreboding soundtrack can never match. This is not to say Bertino skimps on the horror elements, mind you. There are sections in this film, before the mysterious "creature" deep in the woods has been revealed, that are as suspenseful as anything in a horror picture this year, and much of this tension arises out of the fact that we actually care about the characters.
Bertino's methodical formalism, combined with the fully committed, deeply felt performances from Kazan and Ballentine, results in a film which creates a remarkable amount of empathy. The titular monster is a metaphor, of course, and the obvious symbolism doesn't detract from the overall experience because as an audience, we are rooting for these people to overcome their emotional and psychological trauma. Some may snicker at the wonky design of the beast in the forest, but this is besides the point. The danger isn't "out there" anyhow. It's closer to the chest. Kind of like a mother's love for her daughter when she doesn't even know how to save herself, and The Monster is smart enough to tap into that kind of terror.