Initially this film seems like a movie about a young mother fleeing her abusive ex-husband, to a new life and an isolated home. Once there she discovers that the evil of this world is not done with her just yet and she is forced to face a truly malevolent creature so that she and her son might live. And that is all I will say about the plot, because this is a film where the less you know the better, trust me I was near oblivious going into this one and it makes it all the more entertaining. Therefor this will be a spoiler free review.
First off we should address the most obvious theme of this story, that of isolation. We know that Christina Ricci’s character is running from something truly harrowing and that alone can be an isolating feeling. If any of you have ever been in that mind set it can feel like you are the only person on this earth who is alone. And Monstrous does an excellent job conveying this by not only keeping the cast small, but also using sets that feel isolating and dehumanizing. Even when our main characters talk with people we find that most interactions are either blunt or downright hostile. All this continues to isolate them. (I also found it quite interesting that all the media Christina Ricci’s character initially consumes almost feels like it is reminding her and us of a life she ran from, perhaps this is just a way to help convey her subconscious to us?)
Compounding on this was the score which was utterly fantastic at building up the tension. You can have all the best scares in the world, but if your score fails at ramping up the anxiety, then it is all for nought. In the case of Monstrous this is a score that not only makes you feel alone, but it also leaves you feeling tense. And when the score is not making you hide behind your favourite pillow the soundtrack will have you bopping along to some of the greatest songs ever recorded including two of my all time favourite Buddy Holly tracks and Mr Sandman by The Chordettes, I swear I am in my mid 30’s.
Now for the monster itself, I will keep my words on that simple. It was fantastic and gave me some John Carpenters The Thing vibes, at least in its initial appearance. Beyond that if you want to know more you will need to watch the movie yourself.
Finally their is the performances. For the most part this one is a two horse race with Christina Ricci playing Laura and her son being played by Santino Barnard. The two worked exceedingly well together and yes Ricci did do most of the heavy lifting her, but she is a veteran of the business so I think we can cut Barnard some slack. On her performance Ricci played a fierce yet vulnerable mother bear, hell bent on protecting her cub. Scream Queens of the past would have ran, but this is a women who yearns to have her child safe so she is willing to stand and fight and that is such a fresh visual to have in a movie. Meanwhile Santino Barnard plays his role perfectly, in stead of constantly screaming, or acting uncharacteristically brave, we see a child freeze up and hide under their blanket, which is exactly what a kid would do.
But together is where both these actors truly shine. Yes Ricci does take the lead, but like I said this is to be expected, and yes this is a movie where a women confronts some truly dark forces but it is in the more mundane where the film truly shines, one need only watch the heart breaking birthday scene to see that I am right, and this is only the second most soul shattering scene in the movie.
In a world of endless bombastic remakes and sequels here we have a movie that dares to be quiet. In fact not only does it dare to be quiet but it dares to ask some pretty deep questions. and tackle how trauma can truly affect someone. It really is a unique gem and totally worth watching.