I’ve been finding some good-good and bad-good gems on Amazon, so I decided to dig back into Netflix to see if I can get lucky and unearth some monster movie treasures. The general impression I get is that Netflix acquires a whole bunch of cheap movies from around the world and they are of a consistent, drab quality. Amazon has a bunch of gonzo ’70s and ’80s horror and action movies, which are more fun to watch, and feel like tiny packages of movie joy in every viewing. Netflix movies are a slog and miserable. But when I see a title like The Monster I have to check it out to see what type of Monster we’re dealing with. I’m a sucker like that.
The Monster (2016)
Yep, this is of the drab and miserable school of filmmaking. Not to be confused with any of a dozen movies with “Monster” in the title, or the Roberto Benigni Il Mostro or the Charlize Theron Female Serial Killer movie, this is directed by Bryan Bertino, who also made the Liv Tyler home invasion movie The Strangers. So you know he’s into cruelty and suffering. I can see how that’s a legitimate point of view for a horror film, but it’s usually the audience that is cruelly mistreated and suffers. The Monster plays like a self-serious, pretentious indie family drama that also happens to have a giant, slimy dog monster in it. Come on, it’s got an icky, black, fanged man-eating Dog Monster, why can’t we have some fun here? Maybe the Dog Monster is a metaphor. More like a metaphor for the pain and suffering I feel watching this turkey.
So we start with a typical indie drama with a single mom played by Zoe Kazan and her teenage daughter, played by Ella Ballentine. They have a terrible relationship. Mom drinks too much, dad briefly appears in flashbacks and was an abusive jerkface, and daughter says horrible things to her mother and threatens to murder her in her sleep. Wonderful people. The movie takes forever to get going as we wallow in their misery and their dismal motel room. Then they go on the road and insult each other in the car for a long while. At this point, the movie is agonizingly slow and I’m beginning to wonder if the titular Monster is this horrible Mom.
Thankfully, they swerve to miss a dog/wolf on the road on a rainy patch of highway and they spin out and their car is wrecked. Do they hit the dog/wolf? I can’t tell because it’s all shaky camera work and skidding tires on the soundtrack. They argue some more about getting out to check on the dog/wolf. Then a tow truck arrives, so we have cannon fodder codger. The pile of fur they keep calling a wolf disappears. Then they keep getting out of the car in the pouring rain to investigate and Ballentine finds it again with the line, “I found the wolf.”
Then while mom and daughter sit in the car feeling sorry for themselves, the tow truck driver is threatened by growling noises and eaten off-camera while the women scream their heads off, but do nothing to help. Then the mangled tow truck driver sloooooowly drags himself across the street and gets attacked off-camera AGAIN. More screaming, and Kazan and Ballentine keep making horrible decisions to get out of the car and look for the Wolf-Monster and get harassed by it.
Damn if this isn’t all pedestrian and by the numbers filmmaking. It’s all in the Low-Budget Filmmaking Chapter 1, how to drag out your wafer thin premise to feature length so that you don’t have to spend any money on sets, costumes or actors. And it’s all infuriating. The Monster finally makes an appearance, looking like if the ghost dogs from Ghostbusters got some Venom goop on them. Is it a werewolf? Man-Wolf? Mutant wolf? Rabid dog? I don’t know. But the movie plays out nearly the same as a far superior and much more entertaining movie called Howl, which I watched recently. That one features a cast of characters on a train being harassed by a Wolfman. That one had comedy and excitement. This one has misery and absolutely zero forward momentum.
So then to skip to the point, mom and daughter are repeatedly harassed and assaulted by the Mutant Wolf. An ambulance driver shows up and gets eaten. Mom and daughter forget their injuries from the previous car crash and go racing off in the ambulance, only for it to be attacked by the teleporting Mutant Wolf and mom gets bitten. Do we have the glorious scene where the homicidal mom-hating daughter must confront her mother who has become a literal She-Wolf? Spoiler alert, no. Because that would be good writing and an interesting bit of drama. Instead we get TWO SCENES where she cries and tries to revive her dead mom. That only works the first time, however.
How miserable is this movie? It made my skin crawl with tediousness and tooth-pulling pain for how little was happening. Just to draw out the running time on this crappy movie, there are endless flashbacks to mom and daughter fighting back in the scuzzy motel.
On the single positive note, I’ve seen Zoe Kazan in about four movies recently and I still can’t recognize her face or that I had seen her before. She disappears into her roles, I’ll give her credit for that. And maybe she can’t do much with this thoroughly unpleasant, loathsome character. But it’s never a good sign when you spend the entire movie rooting for the fanged Wolf-Beast to eat your cast. Okay, that’s not true. That’s usually the case with these movies. That’s kind of the point.
THE BOTTOM LINE
If you like your slimy Mutant Wolf movies served up with Indie angst, nihilism and misery, than this is the film for you. I, however, like my horror movies with more zing to the dialogue and more pep in their step. The monster is fine but not particularly scary, so there’s that going for it. Also, there’s no consistency. Sometimes the monster attacks, and sometimes it disappears into the woods again for no reason, only because two helpless miserable people would get eaten in 20 seconds flat if the Wolf-Monster had a go-for-broke attitude. There’s literally no reason the Monster doesn’t eat them at any point after the car crash. It’s capable of ripping into ambulances, but a Honda Civic holds it at bay? Please. I’d definitely avoid the movie unless you enjoy artsy, excruciatingly slow Wolf-Monster movies. I know I don’t.
Ballentine goes head to head with the Wolf-Monster in the middle of the same stretch of road we’ve been looking at for two hours. There’s no chasing through the woods or sense of drama or tension. And she defeats it with the old hairspray and a lighter trick. Holy crap is that a lame way to go down if you’re the Wolf-Monster. It just stands there waiting to get hairsprayed. I give it a 3 out of 10 on the Kill-O-Meter, only because the Monster on fire effect is pretty well done. Does the charred hull of the Wolf-Monster get back up for one last paltry jump scare? Please, do I even have to answer that?