The Monster (2016)


It was a dark and stormy night...

It was a dark and stormy night…

(2016) Horror (A24) Zoe Kazan, Ella Ballentine, Scott Speedman, Aaron Douglas, Chris Webb, Marc Hickox, Christine Ebadi. Directed by Bryan Bertino

 

The things that scare us are often those that hide in the shadows, that dwell in the dark but they aren’t always the most dangerous things. Sometimes what is most threatening is that which is right in front of us.

Lizzie (Ballentine) is entering her teen years with a bigger burden than most. Her mother Kathy (Kazan) is a raging alcoholic with appropriately awful taste in men. Lizzie yearns for a normal life but that is not likely to happen with Kathy who is far from a candidate for the Mother of the Year award. Lizzie just wants Kathy to drop her off at school so she can appear in the school play but the two get into a massive fight which ends up with Kathy essentially telling her daughter to go straight to Hell.

The two simply can’t co-exist any longer so Kathy decides to take Lizzie to live with her father (Speedman) who may or may not be much better, but whatever – Kathy is going to take her daughter in the middle of a rainy night through a lonely wooded road. When a wolf runs out into the road, Kathy spins out the car and wrecks it. However, thank goodness there is a cell signal and she calls for an ambulance and a tow truck.

When the two ladies investigate, they realize that the wolf was in the process of being eaten before they hit it. And when the tow truck driver (Douglas) arrives, it soon becomes crystal clear that they’re being stalked by something that is not anything anyone has ever seen before but there is one thing that is absolutely for certain about it – it’s hungry.

There is room here for a really nifty horror film but unfortunately we don’t get it. The constant bickering between Lizzie and Kathy gets irritating after awhile. Also the backstory is largely told through flashbacks which have a tendency to stop the movie dead in its tracks and interrupt the goings on. These also get irritating after awhile.

Kazan has a very youthful face which is perfect for this role; she barely looks old enough to have graduated from high school herself. She has a pretty thankless role; Kathy isn’t what you’d call admirable although when push comes to shove, she finally reacts like an actual mother but most of the movie tells us that she isn’t really much of a mother to begin with. Why she suddenly becomes one doesn’t feel very organic to me.

There are a lot of things that I call horror movie shortcuts; actions taken by the characters that defy logic. Even when panicked, most people aren’t going to continually venture past the streetlight that seems to be their only protection just to see what’s going on. However, the women’s actions serve to advance the plot but not necessarily the characters. That is some lazy writing right there.

The creature effects are nifty (and non-CGI, refreshing in this day and age) and the filmmakers wisely choose not to reveal too much about the monster. They are undoubtedly familiar with the adage that the imagination is far scarier than anything any filmmaker can come up with in general and the filmmakers use that to their advantage.

There are a few moments here and there that are generally scary and the dysfunctional mother-daughter dynamic might have made for an interesting background for the film, but in the end it’s just another monster hunt and not a particularly innovative one. Generally, I’d wait on this until it becomes available at a bargain streaming fee, or on a service you already subscribe to. It’s nothing to seek out intentionally though.

REASONS TO GO: The creature work is pretty nifty.
REASONS TO STAY: Lapses in logic and realism spoil the plot. The mother-daughter bickering eventually got on my nerves. The flashbacks are rather intrusive.
FAMILY VALUES:  There is a surfeit of profanity as well as some violence and bloody images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT:  The film was previously titled There Are Monsters.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/19/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 78% positive reviews. Metacritic: 69/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Cujo
FINAL RATING: 4/10
NEXT: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Ladyhawke


Ladyhawke

Love reunited in the sight of God, Man, Wolf and Hawk.

(1985) Romantic Fantasy (Warner Brothers) Matthew Broderick, Rutger Hauer, Michelle Pfeiffer, Leo McKern, John Wood, Ken Hutchison, Alfred Molina, Giancarlo Prete, Loris Loddi, Alessandro Serra. Directed by Richard Donner

When you find your soul mate, you know it immediately. The greatest joy in life is to be in their presence. The greatest cruelty is to be separated from them.

Philippe Gaston (Broderick) – a.k.a. Philippe the Mouse – is a thief who has been imprisoned in the dungeons of Aquila for his crimes. Resourceful and desperate, he escapes through the sewers and is chased through the countryside by the vicious and cruel Captain of the Guards (Hutchison). Just when it appears he is going to go medieval on Philippe’s ass, he is saved by Captain Etienne Navarre (Hauer), the disgraced former Captain of the Guard.

Navarre takes an interest in Philippe not because of his sense of outrage at injustice but because of his accomplishment of escaping the dungeons of Aquila. Navarre has an interest in this because he means to kill the Bishop (Wood).

It turns out Navarre has an incredible secret. He fell in love with Isabeau d’Anjou (Pfeiffer), who the Bishop had his eye on. Unable to have her, he cursed the lovers; by day Navarre is a man but by night a wolf. Isabeau is a woman by night and a hawk by day. They cannot see each other, touch each other – but they are constantly at each other’s side. They are in love but they can never be together. That’s why Navarre wishes to kill the Bishop.

However, Imperius (McKern), the friar who was responsible for the Bishop finding out about Navarre’s romance with Isabeau, believes he’s found a way to break the curse – Isabeau and Navarre must stand before the Bishop as man and woman. Impossible, no? No because there’s a solar eclipse coming in which day and night combine. But how to get there with the Bishop’s guards arrayed against them and a vicious bounty hunter (Molina) on their trail?

This is one of my favorite romantic movies of all time. Richard Donner was on a streak of great movies at the time, including Superman: The Movie and The Goonies. He shot most of the movie in Italy and Spain, utilizing the great cinematographer Vittorio Storaro to shoot beautiful mist-filled vistas that lend an air of otherworldliness to the fantasy but also romance as well.

Pfeiffer was at her most beautiful and her most radiant here, and her chemistry with the dashing Hauer (just off his appearance in Blade Runner) is astounding, even though they’re only in two scenes together. The first, where they are both changing forms as dawn breaks, is absolutely heartbreaking and one of my favorite scenes in any movie ever.

Broderick is the glue that holds the movie together. He’s not just the comic belief, but he’s also the moral center. His conversations with God are hilarious and his relationship with the main characters keeps the movie flowing, particularly with Navarre and Imperius. When I first saw this back in the day, the criticism was that Broderick was a bit out of place in the medieval timeframe, coming off as more of a New York street hustler and in many ways that’s valid, but it nonetheless works in my humble opinion.

Wood also does one of the best villain turns of the 80s, snake-like and self-righteous but with a slimy underbelly of corruption and lust. He’s a fine character actor who had several pretty good roles (and I believe is active to this day) but none ever made the kind of splash as this one did, at least with me.

It’s a great movie with a tremendous premise. It’s not quite perfect – the Eric Woolfson/Alan Parsons score is simply wrong for the movie – but it’s pretty darn close. It’s wonderfully romantic, as close to a modern fairy tale – the filmmakers for many years claimed it’s based on an actual medieval legend but there’s little evidence of that. It’s perfect for cuddling up with your sweetie and imagining one another as a dashing knight and a beautiful damsel.

WHY RENT THIS: A wonderfully wicked curse and outstanding chemistry between Hauer and Pfeiffer. An energetic performance by Broderick and a deliciously evil turn by Wood.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The Alan Parsons-produced score is anachronistic and wholly improper for the film.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some disturbing images and partial nudity. By and large acceptable for all audiences.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Rutger Hauer was originally cast as Marquet, the evil captain of the guard and Kurt Russell was originally cast as Navarre, but when Russell dropped out three days before principal photography began, Hauer was given the role which is the one he wanted to begin with.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $18.4M on an unreported production budget; the movie reportedly broke even.

FINAL RATING: 9.5/10

TOMORROW: Day 2 of Cinema365: From the Heart