This film could have been titled “There Will Be Beef.”
Monsters are real. As difficult as this may be in increasingly hostile times for the political conversation, even those who voted for Donald Trump have to realize and recognize that this man gave voice to and galvanized a monstrous portion of our electorate—like the men who yelled at women wearing hijabs in New York City streets or other reports of hate crimes linked to people shouting the President-elect's name. Our hope is that he will shout down that evil part of the electorate. But ignoring email controversies against Clinton and fraud allegations against Trump and other political hot buttons, these hateful people are monsters. And they are not the product of Hollywood. And so a film like Bryan Bertino’s “The Monster,” featuring a fantastic and fearless performance from Zoe Kazan, feels oddly timely. It is about a mother and daughter fighting for their lives against a phallic monster in the middle of the night. Horror often addresses the fears of our country—who knew one like this would be so prescient and come along so quickly?
Kazan plays Kathy, an addict and a mother. I put those words in that order on purpose. Kathy’s addiction has defined her life, and ruined the bond between her and her child Lizzy (Ella Ballentine). Largely through flashbacks, we see a harrowing depiction of what addiction can do to even something as primal as the bond between a mother and child. In one of writer/director Bryan Bertino’s most daring moves, he's willing to portray Kathy as an awful human being. This not a mere Hollywood representation of a mediocre mother. Kathy has done horrible things to her child, and she’s not only willing to admit that but essentially recognizes that giving up custody of her child to the birth father is a bed she made and now must lie in.
And so, in the middle of the night, Kathy drives Lizzy to a new life, one without her mother. Everything changes when they hit a wolf in the middle of the road, causing enough damage to their car that they can’t proceed. After calling for a mechanic and an ambulance, Lizzy notices that there’s something unusual about the wolf carcass in the middle of the rain-drenched road—it looks like it was fighting something. Something big. Before you know it, we’re seeing something large and terrifying in the background. And then the poor, doomed mechanic shows up.
What’s living in these woods is a terrifying creature—something that almost looks like a blend of Giger’s design from “Alien” with something more hideously masculine and phallic. Kathy and Lizzy have to hide in their broken vehicle, hoping for some assistance to come but nervous that they won’t survive long enough for it to arrive. And then Kathy realizes she’ll have to take action to save her daughter.