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The Monster (2016)

Lionsgate
Blu-ray Disc Released: 1/24/2017

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 1/10/2017

One of the great things about movies is that they can be so many different things. A movie can wear its heart on its sleeve and make the story incredibly obvious to everyone. Or, it can be more subtle and contain themes and tales which lie beneath the surface, only being revealed to those who are truly paying attention. "Reading movies" is the art of seeking symbolism in films and looking for the true meaning. Sometimes this is easy to see and sometimes it sounds like those who are "reading" the movies are simply trying to sound intelligent.  And then we sometimes get movies which appear to have a hidden meaning, but ultimately have no meaning whatsoever, such as The Monster.

Young Lizzy (Ella Ballentine) has had enough of living with her hard-partying mother, Kathy (Zoe Kazan), so she has requested to be taken to live with her father. Although Lizzy apparently loves her mom, the fact that Kathy is a blackout drunk and can be abusive, presents a situation which isn't safe for Lizzy. So, the two embark on a road-trip, although they get a late start due to Kathy oversleeping. While traveling down a dark road, Kathy loses control of the car, which hits a wolf that was crossing the road. They call for a tow-truck, and wait, the rain pouring down. As they pass the time, they begin to suspect that they aren't alone on the road and that it wasn't the wreck which killed the wolf.

The Monster comes form Writer/Director Bryan Bertino, who was responsible for the 2008 film The Strangers. The first half of that movie contained some powerful and memorable imagery, most notably the shots in which the intruders suddenly appeared in the house. But, as indelible at those moments were, the second half of the film really went nowhere. (I couldn't tell you anything which happened in the second half of the movie.) His latest project runs into the same problem. The movie starts out very strong, as it presents a very simple premise, which is peppered with flashbacks which fill in the rest of the story between Lizzy and Kathy. We see how this seemingly simply ride in the car is actually Lizzy's escape from a sad life.

Then, The Monster, which has appeared to be a domestic drama, turns into a horror movie, as the titular creature appears. Now, Lizzy and Kathy are trapped in the car, as a vicious predator stalks them. And while the car never loses power, the movie certainly runs out of gas. About halfway through the movie, most viewers are going to begin to second-guess the film, and wonder, "Wait a minute. Is the monster even real? Is any of this real?" That's right, decades of mind-f*@K movies have trained us all to start poking around inside of a movie to try and see if we can unravel it and find the twist. Surely, something like The Monster must fit into this category. Why else would a creature which looks like a cross between an Alien and a gorilla suddenly appear in a film which is so decidedly grounded in reality? Well, I've watched the entire film and I still don't know, and I can't help but think that Bertino doesn't know either. I can see how some would interpret some moments in the movie as being symbolic of something else...but that would reaching, as the movie itself doesn't seem to know what is happening.

Even when taken at face value, The Monster is disappointing. Again, the first act is powerful stuff, as we witness the meltdown of this family and we wonder if we've wandered into the wrong movie. Once The Monster becomes a horror film, it not only changes tone, but loses its momentum as well. The editing becomes very slack, as it transforms into one of those films which mistakes characters doing nothing with suspense. Kazan and especially Ballentine are good and believable, but they are forced to wade through a script where very little happens. I'm a huge proponent of films which look like mundane dramas, only to reveal themselves as scary movies, but once the transformation takes place, something else does need to happen. And with the vague nature of the third act, it's clear that The Monster thinks that it's much more clever than it truly is. But, the only think scary here is now betrayed the audience will feel.

The Monster only allows Scott Speedman to appear for about 20 seconds on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Lionsgate. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 25 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look fine and the image is never overly dark or bright. Much of the film takes place at night and the transfer is able to pull off nice depth, as the actors are clearly separate from the backgrounds. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The highlight of the track are the monster's growls. Yes, they sound a lot like the T-Rex from Jurassic Park, but they also fill the speakers and provide some nice subwoofer action. There are also some nice moments in which the track takes advantage of showing off the various sounds coming from around the car.

The lone extra on The Monster Blu-ray Disc is "Eyes in the Darkness". This 8-minute featurette is a fairly standard making-of. We get comments from the cast and the creative team, as well as a nice amount of on-set footage. There are some comments about the story, but no exploration of the message, along with a look at the monster itself and a discussion of the cast.

Review Copyright 2017 by Mike Long