by Patrick Bromley
The Monster, the third and latest film from writer/director Bryan Bertino, is one of these horror movies that might disappoint horror fans despite being a pretty good movie. This is because it's much more interested in being a relationship drama than the full-blood horror movie its title and cool practical creature effects would suggest. Yes, there is a monster in The Monster, but the real monster in The Monster is metaphorical. Your patience for this may vary.
Zoe plays Kathy, the young, unwed, alcoholic mother to pre-teen, wise-beyond-on-her-years Lizzy (Ella Ballentine). The two don't like each other; Kathy resents having to take care of Lizzy and recognizes that she is unfit to do so, while Lizzy resents having to be the adult in their relationship. While driving to take Lizzy to her father's house -- from where neither mother or daughter expect Lizzy to return -- they get into an accident on a dark and deserted highway. While waiting for help, they find themselves trapped, stalked by some sort of creature intent on killing them both.
Ah, but a creature does show up, and Bertino deserves credit for how he handles that as well. The (literal) monster remains an offscreen threat for most of the film, waiting in the shadows and stalking its prey. The cinematography by Julie Kirkwood creates endless dark spaces in which anything could be hiding and both Bertino and editor Maria Gonzales demonstrate real patience when it comes to how long they're willing to let some of the sequences play out -- particularly one involving a tow truck driver who stops to give the ladies some assistance. Ultimately it ends up being pretty standard monster movie stuff, but handled with a degree of professionalism that elevates it just enough to be worth seeing.
Oh! "The Monster!" I just got that.