Set sometime in the 1950s, Monstrous, (not to be confused with Bruce Wemple’s Monstrous), opens as Laura (Christina Ricci, The Adams Family, The Matrix Resurrections) puts her son Cody (Santino Barnard, 8-Bit Christmas, Penny Dreadful: City of Angels) in the back seat of the car and hits the road for California as “See You Later Alligator” plays on the soundtrack.
She’s leaving Arizona and an abusive ex-husband behind and plans to start over in a safer environment for her and her son. She’s rented a beautiful house by a large pond from Mr. (Don Durrell, Bad President, In the Forest) and Mrs. (Colleen Camp, Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant, Deadly Games) and a job working for Mr. Alonzo (Lew Temple, Night Caller, House of Forbidden Secrets).
But this sunny bit of nostalgia is about to turn much darker. Cody is convinced a monster from the lake is stalking them. He also misses home, and despite the reasons for their leaving, his father. Speaking of whom, he’s gotten Laura’s phone number and begins calling.
The first part of Monstrous leans on atmosphere more than outright scares. The film has a bright sunny look to it, but just as the uptempo songs on the soundtrack have lyrics that are less than happy, there’s an undercurrent of darkness just under the surface.
A call to the doctor reveals Laura had been on some kind of medication which seems to have been replaced by bottles of vodka hidden under the bed. Cody’s sullenness and insistence on returning to his father as well as his insistence that there are both a monster and a beautiful woman living in the pond. And there’s a flashback to a young Laura and her Grandmother that suggests a connection to whatever is in the lake.
While not nearly as emotionally brutal, the first hour of Monstrous reminded me more than a little of Slapface. The themes of broken families, coping mechanisms, childhood trauma, and monsters run through and inform both of them with a sense of day-to-day horrors that are as bad as anything supernatural.
Monstrous is a mashup – supernatural horror, 50’s period piece, family drama, creature feature, psychological thriller – but above all it’s a character study. Laura is integral to every sequence.Chris Sivertson
Director Chris Sivertson (I Know Who Killed Me, The Lost) and writer Carol Chrest (The Prophet’s Game) try to walk a line between these two elements in Montstrous’s first act. Initially, the tension comes from the obvious possibility that the creature is the product of a young boy’s nightmares. Or his mother’s drinking. But given the nature of the film, it’s pretty hard not to believe there is a creature out there, especially after we see it emerge from a pool of water on the bedroom floor. Granted the CGI isn’t particularly good, but I’ve certainly seen a lot worse.
It’s Christina Ricci’s performance that holds the first hour of Monstrous together. She does a great job of showing the stress and turmoil hiding beneath her seemingly calm exterior. She manages to convey the fact that there’s more going on than we can see without being obvious or giving too much away. And that’s critical because Monstrous shifts gears in the last act and goes off in a whole different direction and giving it away would ruin a reveal that’s not the biggest of surprises, to begin with.
While it’s not the simple creature feature you might be expecting, or the more complex psychological horror it could have been, Monstrous still works well enough to be worth a watch. Between Ricci’s performance and the story’s interesting turns, there’s plenty here to keep you watching.
Screen Media will release Monstrous in theaters and on VOD and Digital platforms on May 13th. You can check their website for more information. And if that wasn’t monstrous enough, check out these suggestions from FilmTagger.