The Monster (2016)
There is something in this forest.
Enjoyed that happy farting fun of last time? Well, stow it, it's time for monsters! Really, had Monsters not already been used, that would have made a better title for this movie. I'm serious, yeesh. Aside though, after every bright and sunny moment we need to get brought back down to reality by something dark and potentially uncomfortable - keeps us alive, yah know? Tune in this time to learn why you shouldn't take that wooded back road - no matter just how many street lights it might have.
Monster movies don't get enough credit sometimes. A lot of these wanton creature flicks tend to deal with something more than just "big scary monster" - even though I'm sure that's the main reason a lot of us tune into them in the first place. As great a character moment, or as tangible a real-world dilemma and threat can be, there's just this macabre draw towards the unknown and wild. Sometimes this is manifest literally (like a giant killer bear), and sometimes it's more fantastic (such as mutant beast roaming the woods) but either way it makes us come out to see what's on offer. In this case, it's more the latter, with a creature that feels as though it belongs out in the dark and stormy woodlands in theory, even if in practice it still bears a little bit of that hunched over person in a costume feel.
Of course, as alluded to in my preamble, there is more than just the literal monster in this movie - or to replace literal, titular. See, in here we also get to see a brutal mother daughter relationship that paints (at times) both of them as horrible creatures. The mother seems to be an alcoholic, and the movie doesn't pull any punches in trying to make it appear as though that's just the worst thing ever - despite most the mothers scenes present being more about smoking and with a far less degree of ever actually seeming drunk outside of one scene. The child on the other hand, is obviously not faring well from all of that, blatantly wants to be with her father more - rising some solid questions as to just how the kid is with her mother in the first place - and at times coming off a nose hair away from being the next candidate for a slasher movie.
So yeah, we could say that the relationship is by far the more realistic monster in the movie, and for sure some people may gravitate more towards the relationship drama involved in that convulsing mass of terrible - but that being said, by the end of the movie it all transpires in nearly the exact manner you would expect to a T. The two actors do a fine job in their parts, although at times it can feel like the mother is phoning it in - but this is again one of those situations I've run into where it feels totally accurate to how the character was written and intended to be rather than an actor not doing their job. The kid on the other hand sells her part incredibly well. The other actors? Well, they aren't in the movie long enough to really bother mentioning.
The monster looks good enough, and they wisely keep it lit darkly through most the movie - initially never actually even showing it's entire profile. There's an old adage of "less is better" when it comes to these things - and it's become such for a reason. Leaving more to the imagination can really help make a thing more terrifying than it actually is, and a good job of lighting and using nice camera angles and focusing tricks can really show off some skill at the helm. On the opposite side of this, it's well over half an hour before you even see the monster, meaning you'll be watching a good third of a movie named The Monster before you even get a hint that a monster actually exists in it that isn't human. The other effects come off pretty decent, with some pretty good looking persistent injuries as well as some vehicular carnage.
There are some things that I like about the premise - well, the actual monster part of the premise. Being trapped in a car has been done before - such as the one scene in Cujo - and the movie figures out relatively clever ways of dealing with the "just call for help and wait" recommendation most viewers would instantly bring up to deal with the problem at hand. At the same time, I have to say that the movie isn't without it's little nonsensical holes popping up - such as that little girl really should have been dead before the hour mark, and yet for no reason other than just tension building and "because" she happens to not be turned into a snack at what would have been the perfect time. There's also the question of how something so large can so easily stay out of sight of one or two people while interacting with a third whilst all three are in such incredibly close proximity.
Another thing that the movie likes to do is put it's broken family life flashbacks throughout the movie, seemingly just whenever it feels like it. Found a dead wolf? Time for a flashback. It breaks it up (being the monster segment) to the point where it at least makes it feel like it's longer than it is, but most of it doesn't really feel like it's adding to the characters much at all. The opening scene before we get locked into horror mode sets up the relationship between the mother and daughter fine, and a good portion of the daughter-focused flashback segments only go to make her seem more psychotic and the mother's just cements how broken their relationship is. I'm not saying the movie could or should have cut these moments - by all means, we'd only have about 40 minutes of movie if they did - but it also feels like those scenes could have done something to actually further the characters instead of just emphasising current moments with flashbacks.
The Monster might not have been the star of it's own movie, but the movie ended up being something that fans of drama movies could probably enjoy far more than the usual straight horror film. In turn, at moments the scariest parts of the movie stop being on the monster of the title and more of the human psyche variant, which is a bit of a bummer for someone going in looking for a monster flick but probably more effective than a jump-scare laden creature feature would normally be. It's well shot despite some of it's little less thought out moments, and makes pretty good use of a very small cast. Although it's not on screen all that much comparatively, the movie also makes an effective use of and shows an understanding of shooting creatures as well. I enjoyed it for rather different reasons than I added to my watch list for, and it didn't feel at all like it overstayed it's welcome.