This is a lean, uncomplicated creature feature, sort of Cujo in the rain. It centres on the relationship between alcoholic, neglectful mother Kathy and her tired, disappointed teenager daughter, Lizzy. Through flashbacks we see the poor state of this relationship, which has led to the current, rainy night car journey for Lizzy to be deposited with her father. On the way there they hit a wolf. But, you know, it’s not a wolf.
This is not a masterpiece of film-making, but it does the little things right. The central relationship between Kathy and Lizzy is played with the right level of fear, anger and despair without horror film histrionics. The flashbacks create characters we care about sufficiently. The plot isn’t greedy, in fact it’s been on a strict diet – there is no conspiracy theory to explain the Monster, no big discovery, it just is. The events offer the chance for redemption. It can be read as an allegory about emerging from the confusion of adolescence, but it never forgets it’s a horror film.
I watched Refn’s The Neon Demon in the same sitting. I should like that film more, it is more beautifully crafted and cinematic, but I would opt for Bryan Bertino’s simple creature horror over Refn’s glossy fashion horror. Why do we like films? Partly they resonate with memories of the formative movies that shaped our tastes. While The Monster doesn’t deliberately reference to 70s/80s horror the way Stranger Things does, it has some of that VHS charm of films like Q: the Winged Serpent, or The Howling. Neon Demon may be better cinema, but The Monster is better me cinema.