Acclaimed horror filmmaker Bryan Bertino (The Strangers) wrote and directed this suspenseful and scary film, in which a divorced mother (Zoe Kazan) and her headstrong daughter must make an emergency late-night road trip to see the girl's father. As they drive through deserted country roads on a stormy night, they suddenly have a startling collision that leaves them shaken but not seriously hurt. Their car, however, is dead, and as they try in vain to get help, they come to realize they are not alone on these desolate backroads — a terrifying evil is lurking in the surrounding woods, intent on never letting them leave.
Back in 2008, director Bryan Bertino gave the world 'The Strangers', which has people still talking about how scared they are of the film almost ten years later. Bertino certainly created a slow-burn and very effective horror story with 'The Strangers', a style which he uses in his new film titled 'The Monster' that stars Zoe Kazan ('Ruby Sparks'). The film has a good setup, but tends to go into a more formulaic territory as the film progresses. Of course, if you've seen the trailer or the poster for the film, you will indeed see an actual slimy monster with big teeth, but what Bertino is suggesting here through flashbacks and symbolism, is that alcohol addiction and the destruction it can cause might be the real monster.
The film follows a single mother named Kathy (Zoe Kazan) with a violent and abusive alcohol problem, where her young daughter Lizzy (Ella Ballentine) is usually the adult and taking care of household things, as well as her mother after long nights of drinking and abuse. It's Lizzy's father's weekend for him to take care of her, so Kathy drives Lizzy, both knowing deep down this will be permanent, since Kathy is not able to function properly as an adult let alone a mother. As a symbolic roadblock of sorts to an end, both Kathy and Lizzy hit a wolf in the middle of a country road.
The wolf seems to not have really died by the car impact, but by some sizable bite marks and scratches, which 'The Monster' reveals its ugly head as the two women are trapped without a working car in the middle of nowhere. This is where Bertino breaks the normal horror mold, which is a breath of fresh air. Surprisingly, the mobile phones work as the women call for help, and yes, people do come to help them out, but of course, 'The Monster' shows up. There is a good amount of suspense built around the film that mounts as it comes to a conclusion, but Bertino breaks in with flashbacks of Kathy and Lizzy's unfortunate relationship that sometimes takes the steam out of the situation at hand.
It's a bit interesting to see where Bertino took this movie, considering all of the symbolism he put in about alcohol addiction, and I think the film would have played out better if it went another way. That's not to say that 'The Monster' isn't a good film. It is in certain respects, but it lacks the emotional heft it was trying to suggest. Kazan and Ballentine deliver solid performances and Bertino's direction still shows he has an eye for suspense, even if he doesn't show 'The Monster' all that well in the film.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Monster' comes with a 25GB Blu-ray Disc from A24 and Lionsgate that is Region A Locked. There is an insert for the digital download code as well. The disc is housed in an eco-friendly hard, blue plastic case with a cardboard sleeve.
'The Monster' comes with a 1080p HD transfer and is presented in 2.40:1 aspect ratio. Most of the film takes place at night in total darkness with a ton of rain. Needless to say, this isn't a bright and colorful film by any means and colors don't pop off screen. That being said, the detail is surprisingly sharp and vivid, even in these darker sequences. Closeups reveal the practical makeup effects and wounds on the actor's faces as well as some of the detail that went into making the actual monster when you get a quick glimpse of it.
Flashback scenes and the opening of the film have some shots during daylight, which offers an even better detailed experience that we can see individual hairs and wardrobe stitching. Colors look great as well, but is often steeped in low light and darkness. The good news is that there isn't any real shadowing issues or crush. Skin tones look natural and black levels are deep and inky. Compression problems are mostly non-existent too, leaving this very dark film with solid marks.
This release comes with a lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix and does a great job with sound effects and the ambient noises surrounding this horror picture. The rainfall sounds thick and full throughout with the rear speakers delivering a good amount of rain effects as it passes through the trees on either side of the car. Other nature noises and the sounds of the monster sound deep and haunting as well. There was some great directionality to the noises of the monster as well as other forest sounds that swept through and even startled me from time to time.
The score added to the tension of the film, but sounded basic. The dialogue was always clear and easy to follow, and free of any pops, cracks, hiss, or shrills, which was nice, since there was a lot of yelling in the film. The bass kicks into high gear as well when the heavier and more dramatic moments of the film appear on screen and never cross into rocky territory, leaving this audio presentation with great marks.
Eyes in the Darkness (HD, 8 Mins.) - The standard promo puff piece for the film that has cast and crew interviews and a look at making of the monster. It's quick and fairly uninformative.
'The Monster' certainly has some great aspects to it. The performances by Zoe Kazam and Ella Ballentine are very good. The cinematography is great as well. There is a slow burn suspense that keeps you on the edge of your seat, as well as this film breaking the usual dumb horror tropes throughout. It's just that filmmaker Bertino was alluding to something throughout the film that never happened. Like his first film 'The Strangers', this one takes a slow burn horror approach that is quite effective. I just don't think this monster will stand the test of time. The video and audio presentations are both good, but the only extra is an EPK piece that doesn't dive into much of the film. Definitely worth a look though.