The thing about calling your film something as simple and all encompassing as The Monster is that your movie can be about pretty much anything relating to that word. The Monster may well be about a mother and child fending off a deadly beast after their car crashes in the middle of nowhere but it really is about much more than that. Just as Dark Was The Night was a simple monster movie that was really about loss and grief (and also known as Monster Hunter in some countries, so like a sequel to this!) so The Monster is really about addiction and failure. Yay to a barrel of laughs this Christmas.
Kathy is taking her twelve year old daughter Lizzy to her father’s house, most likely for the last time as Lizzy can no longer tolerate her mothers lifestyle. Kathy is a raging alcoholic who puts the booze before her child and slaps her about if she gets in her way. Kathy is played by Zoe Kazan and the first thing that hits you is that surely she’s too youngto have a twelve year old? With her small pixie face and youthful features she does indeed seem too young to be a mother. I think this actually works in her favour as instead of living the life someone in their twenties should be living she is stuck trying to be a single parent. Clearly she has failed at this because she hasn’t had a chance to mature enough herself. Obviously the alcoholism is a factor too, although its not clear if she became an addict because of her situation or was already one before having her baby. Of course I’m always a bit weary of what constitutes being an alcoholic in America: if you have a drink at lunchtime there and someone will slip you an AA helpline number. If you were to have a drink at lunchtime here in the UK you’re encouraged to have another one.
Kathy is clearly a terrible mother to Lizzy, this is told in flashback throughout the film and manages to carefully enrich the characters without interrupting the tension of the situation they’re in. It is also a testament to Kazan and Ella Balentine as Lizzy that they are able to create such a believable but off kilter relationship. They can’t bare each other but are so wrapped up in eachother’s lives that they are almost obsessed with how each of them react to the other. Lizzy, like any child really, just wants her mother to be a proper parent but she can see, and points out, her never ending failures. Kathy, in her quieter moments can show genuine affection for her child but is so enraptured by her addiction that she can’t find the will to escape her dependence. When they set off across the country they both know that this is the end of their relationship and that sense of tragedy hangs over the whole film.
In some ways the best thing that could happen to this sorrowful pair is a dirty great big monster who wants to eat them alive.
The vast majority of The Monster is set in and around Kathy’s crashed car at night and director Bryan Bertino sensibly keeps the creature in the dark for much of the film. Its not a bad creature though, by keeping it as a practical effect it has a strong, hulking physicality over the two female protagonists. However Bertino’s focus is really on these two desperate characters and their fractured relationship. The monster itself is all teeth and slime, like a skinned bear covered in oil. It barely even has any eyes but I think that’s kind of the point. This monster isn’t given any explanation like an ancient cave dweller or alien ravenger, it is just a creature trying to kill them. It is like the Id monster from Forbidden Planet: a representation of the dark side of Kathy and her alcoholism. Or maybe it is the Id of Lizzy who at one point fantasizes about killing her mother herself to be rid of her burden. Perhaps The Monster of the title isn’t even this beast at all but is in fact Kathy, an awful human being who tells her daughter to go fuck herself in front the neighbours.
But there’s more to Kathy’s particular brand of parenting that transpires as the film progresses. If being a successful parent is about giving your child the tools to survive what the world throws at them then you could say that Kathy gives her daughter the right, albeit awful, experiences to deal with what happens on that terrible night.
The Monster is a neat little film. Even with the presence of indie darling Kazan it hasn’t been given much notice which is a shame because it is a good, small scale creature feature, working both as an entertaining B movie and as an insight into what is like to be good and bad parents and children.