THE MONSTER (originally titled THERE ARE MONSTERS) is a 2016 American-Canadian 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.

Kathy (Zoe Kazan) is driving her teenage daughter Lizzy (Ella Ballentine) to her father’s house as it’s his turn for custody. Tired of taking care of her abusive, unstable, alcoholic mother, Lizzy makes it clear she wants to live with her father permanently. As night falls, Kathy hits a wolf with her car. But its injuries look like they were sustained by an animal attack rather than their car. Kathy is injured in the collision, forcing Lizzy to call a tow truck and ambulance.

The tow truck arrives and its driver, Jesse, begins working underneath the car. Lizzy notices the wolf’s body is gone and now becomes frightened. Tired with bickering, Kathy gets out of the car to talk to Jesse but cannot find him. Jesse’s severed arm abruptly lands on the hood of the car. A severely mauled Jesse crawls out of the woods, only for a monstrous creature to drag him under the tow truck and eat him before Kathy can help.

Attracted by the sound of music emanating from Lizzy’s teddy bear, the monster drags Kathy out from the car. Luckily, it is scared away by the approaching ambulance before it is able to kill Kathy. As Kathy and Lizzy cower in the ambulance, the monster slaughters the EMT team. It smashes into the ambulance when Kathy tries to drive off, causing her to swerve into the woods.

Kathy begins vomiting up blood and realizes she has internal bleeding. Now aware that the monster is scared away by bright light (and her inevitable death is coming), Kathy uses her lighter to make a torch and tells her daughter her plan. She’s going to run into the woods so the monster will chase her while Lizzy escapes into the road to get help. Kathy finally admits to Lizzy she does truly love her; even more than life itself.

Under the impression Lizzy has gotten away, Kathy allows the monster to attack (and kill) her. But Lizzy, who was unwilling to leave her mother behind, chases it away with the flashlight. Upon realizing her mother is dead, a distraught and enraged Lizzy (now determined to avenge Kathy’s death) uses a spray can from the ambulance combined with her mother’s lighter to set the monster ablaze. It attempts to lunge at her with its last bits of strength while near-fatally wounded, but Lizzy beats it to death with a large stick finally killing it.

Lizzy remembers after a particularly hateful, alcohol-fueled encounter, Kathy apologized, and correctly predicted Lizzy would grow up to be a better person than she was. As the sun rises, Lizzy emerges from the woods.

I honestly was not sure what to expect with this film. I immediately got into it though and thought that it is really well done. There are so many aspects of this film to enjoy or be bothered by. The relationship between Kathy and Lizzy is the heart of the story. They have had a troubled history, with Kathy’s ex-husband leaving and having a stable relationship with his new girlfriend. Kathy is an alcoholic, not providing a very supportive or nurturing life for Lizzy.

When the car breaks down in the middle of nowhere, the mother and daughter must work together to survive. Through a series of flashbacks, you see just how horrible Lizzy’s home life is, and you realize that more often than not, Lizzy is the mother figure, taking care of her mother, who is often passed-out drunk. In this isolated situation, they both have to be strong and through their support of each other, the mother comes through as an adult, sacrificing herself for her daughter.

There is no explanation given as to the origins of the monster. Its purpose is clear though, isolate Kathy and Lizzy so that they can become actually mother and daughter. Every bit of help, be it the tow truck driver or EMTs, is killed, bringing Kathy and Lizzy closer together. It seems as though Kathy realizes that she will never be able to be a proper mother, so by making the ultimate sacrifice, it shows her love for Lizzy the only way she knows how.

The movie is very dark and claustrophobic, despite being outside on a main road. The addition of rain adds to the isolation, by causing the mother and daughter to stay in their car out of the elements. This isolation adds to the tension, adding to the overall enjoyment of the film. The monster effects are very well done, using a combination of practical effects and CGI. Thanks to it being so dark, it is nearly impossible to see where the practical and CGI effects start and end.

I took a chance on this movie and am glad I did. It’s got great pacing, despite the flashbacks. At times flashbacks can slow down a film but, in this case, it helps you understand the characters of Kathy and Lizzy. The isolation and darkness are genuinely scary and with the monster being dark as well, you just never know where it is going to be next. Zoe Kazan and Ella Ballentine are perfectly cast in their roles. You feel sorry for Kathy but at the same time you are aggravated that she can’t straighten herself out for her daughter. You also feel sorry for Lizzy, who has to be the adult in this situation and is missing out on being a kid. Despite her mom’s alcohol problems, Lizzy shows her love for Kathy by laying down with her on the bathroom floor after passing out drunk yet again.

This movie has a strong message in addition to being a great monster movie. I definitely recommend it.

Make sure to check out all of my MONSTROUS MOVIE REVIEWS.

~David Albaugh

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