The Monster is a 2016 American monster horror film written and directed by Bryan Bertino, and starring Zoe Kazan and Ella Ballentine. Its plot follows a troubled mother and her adolescent daughter who find themselves stranded at night on a country road with a malicious creature hunting them.
The film was released through DirecTV Cinema on October 6, 2016, before opening in a limited release on November 11, 2016, via A24.
Kathy Zoe Kazan is driving her 10-year-old daughter Lizzy Ella Ballentine to her fathers house as its his turn for custody. Tired of taking care of her abusive, alcoholic mother, Lizzy makes it clear she wants to live with her father permanently. As night falls, Kathy hits a wolf with her car. However, its injuries look like they were sustained by an animal attack rather than their car. Because Kathy was injured in the collision, Lizzy calls a tow truck and ambulance.
The tow truck arrives and its driver, Jesse, begins working underneath the car. Lizzy notices that the wolfs body is missing and becomes frightened. Tired of bickering with Lizzie, Kathy gets out of the car to talk to Jesse but cannot find him. Suddenly, Jesses severed arm lands on the hood of the car. In agony, Jesse crawls out of the woods, but before Kathy can help him, a monstrous creature drags him under the tow truck and eats him.
Attracted by the sound of music emanating from Lizzys teddy bear, the monster attacks the car, dragging Kathy out. But before it can kill her, it is temporarily scared away by the approaching ambulance. As Kathy and Lizzie cower in the ambulance, the monster kills the EMT team. Kathy tries to drive away but when the monster attacks the ambulance, she swerves into the woods.
Kathy begins vomiting up blood and realises she has internal bleeding that will likely kill her soon. Now aware that the monster is scared away by bright light, Kathy uses her lighter to make a torch and tells Lizzy her plan. Shes going to run into the woods so the monster will chase her and Lizzy will run to the road to get help. She tells Lizzy she is the best thing in her life.
Thinking that Lizzy is running to the road, Kathy allows herself to be attacked by the monster. Lizzy, who has refused to leave, attacks it with a hammer & chases the monster away with the flashlight. Realising her mother is dead, Lizzy uses a spray can from the ambulance and her mothers lighter to set the monster ablaze, killing it. Then after a final twitch from the creature, she batters it with a large stick.
Lizzy remembers how, after a particularly hateful, alcohol-fuelled encounter, Kathy had apologised and predicted that Lizzy would grow up to be a better person than she was. As the sun rises, Lizzy emerges from the woods.
2.1. Production Concept
In 2014, Bryan Bertino announced that he would direct the film from a screenplay he also wrote. William Green and Aaron Ginsburg of Atlas Entertainment and Adrienne Biddle of Unbroken Pictures would serve as producers, while Richard Suckle and Sonny Mallhi would serve as executive producers.
Commenting on his aspirations writing the screenplay, Bertino stated:
I did decide I was going to push myself to explore different kinds of fear, but finding my window in is always going to be the victims first. Even though monsters arent real, it was fascinating to me to think, "Okay, Im going to write a story in which Im not necessarily here to tell you if monsters are real or not, Im just saying what would happen if you broke down on the side of the road and there was a monster? What would you do? How terrifying would that be?
2.2. Production Casting
Elisabeth Moss was originally announced to star in the film in May 2014. The following year, after Moss dropped out of the production, Zoe Kazan joined the cast, replacing Moss. Commenting on committing to the project, Kazan stated that she was "really captured by the story of these two people, especially of the mother really struggling against her worst behaviors to protect her child. She’s not in the habit of taking very good care of her daughter and I don’t think she’s well equipped for motherhood. I was moved by that storyline." To prepare for the role as a mother, Kazan requested Ballentines mother for baby photos of her to help Kazan get into the mindset of being a mother.
In August 2015, it was announced that Scott Speedman, Aaron Douglas and Ella Ballentine all joined the cast of the film. Speedman, who had previously starred in Bertinos directorial debut The Strangers 2008, was cast as Roy, Kathys ex-husband.
2.3. Production Filming
Filming began in Ottawa, Canada in the summer of 2015. Principal photography concluded on August 21, 2015. Reflecting on the shoot, Kazan stated: "We were in a very isolated situation shooting in rural Ontario, and there wasn’t a lot around. were basically the only actors in the film, so we spent a tremendous amount of time together and with her mom. It wasn’t all because we were just trying to bond for the movie, it was also because we enjoyed each other’s company. It definitely helped that bond as did the three days of rehearsal."
3.1. Release Theatrical distribution
In May 2015, A24 acquired U.S distribution rights to the film. In April 2016, the first image of Kazans character was revealed. The film original title, There Are Monsters, was changed to The Monster in August 2016.
The film was released on the DirecTV Cinema platform on October 6, 2016. On November 11, 2016, the film was given a limited theatrical release simultaneously with its debut on other video on demand platforms.
The film screened at the Beyond Fest on October 6, 2016, the Tacoma Film Festival on October 7, 2016, and the Sitges Film Festival on October 15, 2016.
3.2. Release Critical response
The Monster received positive reviews from film critics. It holds an 80% approval rating on review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, based on 44 reviews, with an average rating of 6.8/10. The sites critical consensus reads, The Monster uses its effectively simple setup and a powerful lead performance from Zoe Kazan to deliver a traditional yet subtly subversive -- and thoroughly entertaining -- horror story." On Metacritic, the film holds a rating of 69 out of 100, based on 13 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
Manohla Dargis, in her review for The New York Times, compared the film to other horror stories about "monstrous motherhood" released for art house and multiplex crowds, saying The Monster was "cleverly pitched somewhere in between." Of the two main actresses and their roles, Dargis noted "Ms. Kazan gives her lungs a workout, and while she’s more persuasive as a scream queen than as a mother, she and Ms. Ballentine get the job done." Justin Chang of the Los Angeles Times praised Bertinos establishment of suspense, writing that he "doles out the jolts with a judicious hand. For a while, The Monster smartly keeps its teeth-snapping main attraction either on the edges of the frame or draped in shadow, distracting us instead with the sinister patter of raindrops on the windshield, or the glow of a flashlight beam. Not least of the surprises here is that even when The Monster is trying to scare you witless, its every scene insistently reaffirms its characters’ humanity."
Brian Tallerico of RogerEbert.com praised the creature effects, likening to those in Alien, as well as Kazans performance, which he wrote "captures the truth of the moment in which Kathy struggles. Kazan doesn’t play the symbolism of the piece. She plays a mother fighting for the life of her child and herself. It’s a committed, fearless performance in how it never betrays the reality of her dilemma. It’s not a typical performance from Kazan, but it’s a great one." The Hollywood Reporter s Justin Lowe wrote that the film "reduces primal fear to its fundamental elements," praising cinematographer Julie Kirkwood’s "ominously prowling camera and sometimes deliberately murky lighting consistently amplify tension by obscuring the threat lurking just beyond the frame." Dennis Harvey of Variety commended the films establishment of characters and its "conceptual simplicity. sharply assembled in all departments, wringing the maximum suspense and variety out of what might have easily become a claustrophobically monotonous handful of outdoor and car-interior locations."