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Belittling Horror Excessively: The Monster03:54 PM -- Thu October 12, 2017

WARNING! This post contains extensive spoilers for this movie. Watch the movie before reading! Or don't. You have been warned.

The Monster (2016)
Rated R
IMDB Says:
“A mother and daughter must confront a terrifying monster when they break down on a deserted road.”
IMDB Rating: 5.4/10
Metacritic Rating: 69/100
Rotten Tomatoes: 78% critics, 39% audience
Solee: 5/5
Mikey: 5/5
We watched this on Amazon Prime.

Solee: The Monster. Was this film what you expected from the title?

Mikey: Well, I had found it based on synopsis, so it was what I expected based on that, other than that I really did not expect the intense and thorough character development. I figured they’d just be in the woods and get eaten. What were you expecting?

Solee: I didn’t look at the synopsis or anything, so I was basing my expectations solely on the title. I was expecting something cheesy and 70s-ish, I think. I was certainly not expecting a movie that had so much depth.

Mikey: I know, right?? I kept saying to myself “well, there’s your monster right there” over and over before they ever got to the woods.

Solee: I’ve been pretty regularly taking three pages of notes for these movie reviews. The Monster filled four pages and leaked onto a fifth! One thing I particularly liked was how well they portrayed the anxiety of the mother and the daughter. It all felt very realistic and authentic, as opposed to scripted. And much of it was in the actions--big ones like the mother not getting up until 4pm, and little ones like the knuckle cracking. The tension between two people who love each other, but have lots of baggage was obvious.

Mikey: I’ll just have to say right out that I got teary-eyed by the end, and all the acting was amazing, and the authenticity you mentioned - the stuff that happened didn’t require them to make idiotic choices (they did all relatively smart stuff), and the events happened in a believable organic way. We knew the ambulance and tow truck were coming, it made sense. Plus bonus points for having cell phones available and working without ruining any of the danger.

Solee: This story was tightly plotted, for sure. Everything knit together perfectly. And like you mentioned earlier, there was a constant underlying question: is THIS the monster? The tow-truck guy showed up and started doing his thing and I could not decide if he could be trusted. I felt the same anxiety I would have felt in the woods on a dark, stormy night with my well-being in the hands of a stranger.

Mikey: Tension all over the place! Probably the most engrossing movie we have seen this month. It’s hard to quite place that because I think IT is a better movie, but this is so much more intense and powerful. It was a character study more than anything else.

Solee: Yes. It reminded me intensely of Cast Away as it slowly revealed more and more about the character and their relationship. I am not sure I agree that IT was a better movie. I think they were comparable, and if The Monster had actually followed Cast Away into the world of movies that work on both a literal and metaphorical level, it would blow IT out of the water.

Mikey: And it is on the literal level where this doesn’t impress as much. The monster (a giant bat, I declare, although much toothier) is shown far too much, ruining the imagination factor, and I think just on a monster-attack-scenario level, this isn’t anything special. There’s nothing I really have to complain about there, it’s not that it’s bad, it’s just that that is where it doesn’t go above and beyond. You’re right: if the monster had tied into the story of their relationship in some smart-person way, it would’ve really been amazing.

Solee: There are obvious connections between the monster and the alcoholic, neglectful mother that could have been utilized more. However, I thought Zoe Kazan did an amazing job of embodying this character at the various points in her arc. By the end, I believed that this woman had found the inner strength to sacrifice herself for her daughter, something she clearly wasn’t able to do prior to that day.

Mikey: I feel like that’s more of the story we were told: nothing deeply metaphorical, just this messed-up relationship being forged in the fire of extreme adversity to be repaired (too late). Which is worthwhile.

Solee: It was a powerful tragedy. I am heartbroken for that little girl--an emotion the director left me in intentionally, btw--because she had to sacrifice what she always wanted to get what she always wanted.

Mikey: Yep, catch-22! I just had an interesting thought: this experience was obviously very impactful to her life, but in the end, I don’t think the daughter actually grew from it. I think she was already grown. Her mother grew a lot in handling this crisis, and her growth ultimately was the end of her. But it really just served to emphasize how much the daughter already took care of herself (and her mother), and was just plain capable of handling all this to begin with. In fact, it’s a bit like Split. Her suffering made her worthy.

Solee: Nice. Yes. I agree with that. It was clear from the very first scene that Lizzie was able to take care of the both of them. Her one weakness was a fear of monsters (which, given the plethora of human monsters in her life, I think is very reasonable) and by the end of the movie, she’s clearly conquered that fear. I am heartbroken and worried for her … but it’s probably not necessary. She’s one of those rare people who gets stronger in the wake of trauma.

Mikey: Speaking of monsters, I’m tired of people saying “there are no such things as monsters”. That’s stupid. There are monsters everywhere - if an alligator or a great white shark isn’t a monster, then the word monster has no meaning. Yes, there are no fuzzy blue one-eyed creatures in the closet, but there are certainly monsters (hopefully not in the closet). This movie could’ve been almost identical if the “monster” was a rabid bear (I thought for a while it was…).

Solee: I would have liked it better for that. I cannot remember a time when I was afraid of imaginary monsters. But when the “big bad” is a real life animal or a person or a disease … that’s the stuff of nightmares. Those things can really get you. Even if you do all the right things, like Lizzie and her mom did after the blow-out.

Mikey: One thing she did wrong is making her toy dog start singing its song… which had me so confused. What is the trigger for the song, and how is it so incredibly sensitive and random? And why does it play two different songs, always in the same order?

Solee: Kids toys are confusing. Do you mean the first time, in their car? Or the second time, in the ambulance?

Mikey: I know she used it on purpose in the ambulance! I actually made a note much earlier on that that dog would be used as a distraction later.

Solee: Clever, subtle foreshadowing is my favorite. I actually didn’t have a problem with the first singing. Those toys usually have a button in the paw or belly that triggers it. She could have easily bumped it or even done it out of habit. It was the thing she used to soothe herself when she was afraid of monsters.

Mikey: Oh, which reminds me of the HUGE JUMP SCARE right after that. That sure worked. And I really like how it made a complete mockery of the safety of staying in the car, which I was assuming would be just fine (I put in my notes that I would just sleep in the car until morning and be fine).

Solee: That was one of two major jumps for me. (The second was when she was kneeling next to the monster’s corpse … and I KNEW that one was coming.) I wasn’t expecting this one at all. I think that destruction of the illusion of safety was done very intentionally and again, it allowed me to be right there in the moment. This was honestly the highest caliber writing I’ve seen all month. Just SO GOOD. Change of topic: what about the monster? What did you think of the monster suit?

Mikey: Oh right, that’s another big win for this movie: a 100% practical monster. CGI would’ve looked like crap as it always does, and this was just a dude in a suit. Executed really well, there was only one scene where it felt like a suit (he was sitting hunched over, in far too much light, and I was like “oh yeah, there are his human legs, not at all the proportion this creature should have”). Although I saw on IMDB that when he is burning you can see the actor’s hand out of the suit. Poor guy.

Solee: I see what you’re saying and I definitely agree about the no-CGI being a good choice. AND I thought that was a dumb monster. I did not like the fact that I could picture the guy inside the suit. I actually used the phrase “dude in a rubber suit” in my notes. Like you said earlier, it would have been better if he stuck to the shadows. But I always think that’s true. The monsters they show are never as good as the monsters I picture in my head.

Mikey: That would’ve completely solved all dude-in-a-suit problems. They even had the plot point of the monster fearing light, so keep it in the dark! I always think of the alien in Alien. If you see it in full light, it’s just a guy with a goofy head and a tail, but they kept it always in the dark and only partly exposed to where it just became this confusing tangle of very alien limbs, and you had no idea what it really looked like. Absolute horror movie rule: never show the monster. I would amend that to “until the very end” which a lot of movies do, but don’t do that either. Just keep it hidden! Burn it up and let us see its charred corpse, that’s fine.

Solee: This was the … third? … monster who was repelled by a lack of fear this month. Has that always been a thing? Or is that a more modern trope?

Mikey: Even though it’s not a bear, I consider this monster just an animal. I don’t think it was anything so mystical. The flashlight was a big problem as it was adapted for night vision only, and that is what kept it at bay usually. Then when she’s face to face with it and acting tough, I can see it just being confused. That is not how prey acts.

Solee: Valid point. There were two moments where the “prey” stood it’s ground and the monster backed off. I can see the natural cause and effect there. I find it interesting that there are so many movies where being brave is the key. Humans are very invested in the concept of overcoming fear. I suppose there are anthropological reasons for that. We have progressed as a species because we are capable of reasoning our way past our primal fears.

Mikey: I think it’s sort of how classic stories have developed through the years - this is a trait we see as good, let’s make it the effective strategy in our story to encourage people to do it. Stories about wise, brave, clever, kind people to encourage humans to be those things.

Solee: Absolutely. Unfortunately, our cultural belief that fear and weakness are BAD THINGS TO BE HIDDEN has gone a long way toward hobbling our emotional evolution. But that’s a very long discussion and I can see that it’s time for ratings.

Mikey: You made me go first last time. RATE IT!

Solee: This one gets an unqualified 5 from me. If it had fully committed to the metaphorical layer that was so ALMOST there, I’d give it a 5+! I liked this movie on a deep, emotional level. The writing was phenomenal, the kind of writing I wish I could do. And the basics of the craft were commendable. A movie I definitely recommend. You?

Mikey: On a metaphorical level, I like how you qualified your unqualified 5. Me, I don’t think I will ever watch this movie again, and it’s not going to stick with me the way something that messes with your head like Triangle did, so that I always think about it and want to go back. But it is an unqualified 5 out of 5, because it is an amazing work of art that I really appreciated. Just a really powerful character study. With a man-bat. (Which reminds me, I kept having thoughts that it WAS a werebat and that Jesse and the mom would be coming back as werebats too).

Solee: As if there’s such a thing as “just” a really powerful character study! ;) We’ll have to look for The Monster 2: The Werebats for next year. Tonight, we watch Netherbeast Incorporated.
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