The Monster (2016)

*. We begin with an epigraph taken from some generic fairy tale. This suits, since as far as stories go it doesn’t get much simpler than this. I mean, even the title is generic.
*. So, mother and daughter are driving through the forest in a rainstorm when they’re in an accident. A monster proceeds to stalk them. Add in a couple of other elements that hardly count as twists: conflict between the two leads (mom is an alcoholic) and a pair of rescue fails (tow truck and ambulance drivers). Mother makes grand self-sacrificing gesture. Little girl shows pluck and resiliency in destroying the monster.
*. You’ll notice I didn’t bother with the spoiler alert. Because really, there’s nothing to this story to spoil. You should be able to tell where all this is going after the first few minutes. There are no surprises.
*. Nor is there anything very scary going on. Writer-director Bryan Bertino also wrote and directed The Strangers, another conventional horror flick that didn’t have any scares in it. I’m not sure what attracts him to the genre. He sets himself a difficult challenge here — making a movie largely bound to a single restricted set — but does nothing to exploit it for suspense or the usual claustrophobic thrills.
*. “No one very much takes this road anymore.” You don’t say. Tow truck companies and ambulance dispatchers also do a shit job of checking in with their employees. This road seems to be a black hole for people and for information.
*. Points for not having a CGI creature. Yes, he looks like a guy in a rubber monster suit, topped off with an immobile head (does his mouth even open?), but at least he isn’t another cartoon.
*. Seeing as the girl’s name is Lizzy, I wonder why her mom has a “Martina” tattoo. Or maybe Zoe Kazan has a Martina tatoo and they just didn’t bother covering it up.
*. Such a simple fairy tale invites being interpreted as a metaphor. This is another movie where the real monster is in fact a bad mother. Think The Babadook. The threatened family has long been a horror staple, but now it is threatened from within, representing a generation’s anxiety over its childraising competence. So Lizzy is the adult in the family, and really the best/only thing her mother can do for her is to just get out of the way.
*. This would all be well enough, and The Monster a decent B-picture, but for the ending. Not only is Kathy a bad mother, she is a total idiot. Her “plan” for escaping the monster is jaw-droppingly stupid. Even as the expression of a death wish it doesn’t hold much water, since it would have doomed Lizzy as well. Then Lizzy’s own plan has no business working but for the strange passivity the monster has toward her, and its even stranger flammability. I mean, it’s slimy, and wet, but is it also covered in oil? That’s the only way I can see it turning into a fireball like that.
*. It’s still not a bad movie. Zoe Kazan and Ella Ballentine are both pretty good, though their interactions become repetitive because the script doesn’t really know what to do with them once their basic dynamic has been introduced. On their way to a better movie, however, their car broke down.

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