Tag Archives: The Monster

‘The Monster’ Is A24’s Overlooked Creature Feature 

A24 has become a respected studio over the past decade, producing massive hits in the genre space such as Hereditary and The Witch. Heck, they even have a Best Picture Oscar winner in the form of Everything Everywhere All at Once. So sure, it’s a bit odd, on the surface, to look at any entry in the studio’s catalog as some forgotten gem. But they can’t all be buzzy winners and, more to the point, sometimes real winners fall through the cracks – and they fall hard. Such was the case with 2016’s The Monster, a delightfully bloody, straightforward creature feature that contains spectacular practical creature effects worthy of widespread recognition. 

Unfortunately, despite this movie’s noteworthy pedigree in front of and behind the camera, it feels like a movie hardly anyone has seen at all. Bryan Bertino, known best as the director of The Strangers – arguably one of the best home invasion thrillers of all time – was at the helm of the film. He brought a similar sense of dread to his first creature feature but also understands that the point of something like this is to cut to the chase. After all, nobody wants to watch a movie called The Monster where we hardly see the damn thing.

At the same time, Bertino doesn’t overdo it, finding a shockingly good balance between giving us shots of the beast – often when it’s causing major carnage – and building anticipation. Bertino is particularly good at paying off ratcheted-up tension. Here, he’s doing it with a more literal monster rather than a trio of sadistic humans.

The film focuses on a mother (Zoe Kazan) and daughter who have to take a late-night drive to see the girl’s father through deserted country roads. Naturally, this takes place on a dark and stormy night. Things go south when they get into an accident that leaves their car dead on the road. As they try unsuccessfully to secure aid, they come to realize they’re not alone out there in the darkness. Yes, as the title implies, there’s a big-ass monster out there with them.

Much like John Carpenter’s Vampires, this is a movie that doesn’t overextend itself and delivers on the simple promises it makes. Do you want a monster? Boy howdy are you going to get a monster! The movie doesn’t spend much time explaining itself, either. Somewhat refreshingly, it’s a monster for the sake of a monster. What more does one need to know? Bertino infuses just enough character stuff between the mother and daughter, giving them a tense, complicated relationship to hinge the whole thing on so that it doesn’t feel like a totally soulless vehicle for monster goodness. But it is a brilliantly simple premise that relies on maximizing execution to make it work. 

The primary reason it works so well is because Bertino doesn’t rely on CGI or other fancy effects that are difficult to accomplish with a relatively small budget. Rather, he and the special effects team crafted a widely impressive beast that looks as though it was made in a pit of black tar, with only white showing in its dead eyes and razor-sharp teeth. Not an uncommon complaint amongst genre film lovers these days, but it is a shame just how often filmmakers rely on CGI when practical effects are often more impactful. Just look at the Nightmare on Elm Street remake using CGI to recreate Freddy coming through the wallpaper. Did that really look better than Wes Craven accomplishing the same thing through practical means in the original? 

Seeing something on screen that is decidedly tangible has a certain effect on the viewer. We know we’re watching a movie – it is, after all, entirely make-believe – but there’s something infinitely more terrifying when a creature is so real you can literally touch it. It’s a big part of why Alien and Aliens hold up so well all these years later. For a movie that only cost $3 million to make, the creature effects here put other movies with much higher budgets to shame. The monster in The Monster is worth the price of admission alone. 

The other thing this movie has going for it is the fact that it is wildly straightforward. Save for some effectual character stuff between the mom and the daughter, there’s not a whole lot going on. It’s a movie that is designed to put people in peril and uses them as a vehicle to showcase a terrifying monster the filmmakers created. There is a truly underrated joy to a movie being so unabashedly direct. Sure, your artsy, less direct horror movies like The Babadook or Anti-Christ have their place, but sometimes you just want to watch a cool creature rip some people to shreds in a well-made film. Bertino delivers precisely that.

In fairness, this was before A24 reached the height of its powers as Hollywood’s premiere arthouse destination, so that name didn’t automatically bring as much attention to a release as it might now. The other factor here was the release strategy. The Monster was first released on VOD exclusively through DirecTV Cinema, which limited its audience. It was later released in just 18 theaters as it debuted on other on-demand platforms. 

To be even more fair, this was part of a larger co-financing deal that A24 had with DirecTV for several years. Other key movies – such as Slow West, Equals, Son of a Gun, and, perhaps most importantly, Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy  – debuted this way. But they all also feel similarly underseen. While this is a little reminiscent of what Blumhouse has done with both Hulu and Prime Video, it does feel like movies with wider appeal weren’t given the opportunity to break out. The Monster might just be the most egregious of the batch.

The movie now exists in the endless sea of content that clouds the many streaming services we all subscribe to, making it far too easy to just scroll past for the average viewer. A movie with such masterfully crafted creature effects deserved better. A movie made by a filmmaker as good as Bryan Bertino deserved better. A movie made by the people who turned Hereditary into a giant-ass hit deserved better. The Monster deserved better.