Monstrous Movie Review

Written by Stuart D. Monroe

Released by Screen Media

monstrous poster large

Directed by Chris Siverston
Written by Carol Chrest
2022, 89 minutes, Rated PG-13
Released on May 13th, 2022

Christina Ricci as Laura
Santino Barnard as Cody
Don Durrell as Mr. Langtree
Colleen Camp as Mrs. Langtree
Sally Elbert as Grandmother

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When any film takes a “twist” that has been done to death and combines it with heavy-handed underlying commentary about such subjects as spousal abuse and grief, I would argue that film is taking a chance that relies on an incredible lead performance, great set design and costumes, and sharp, conclusive writing (especially on the B-story).

Two out of three ain’t bad. Meatloaf told us as much, and who the hell are you to argue against The Loaf?!

Monstrous is the story of Laura (Christina Ricci; The Addams Family, Yellowjackets), a mother who is fleeing her abusive ex-husband with her seven-year-old son, Cody (Santino Baranard; Penny Dreadful: City of Angels). They rent an isolated, rambling home in California, and it isn’t long before the phone starts ringing. That may be the least of Laura’s worries, however, as Cody has made friends with the “pretty lady in the pond”…and the “pretty lady” really doesn’t like Laura. What does the presence in the lake-sized pond out back want with Laura and Cody? And how long before Scott comes calling in person?

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That first essential is the lead performance. Well, this is Christina Ricci we’re talking about, and she’s as reliably captivating as ever. She’s giving you the full range of her toolkit from battered to battling and from sane to not-so-sane. She makes it pretty clear early on that there’s more going on than what you are seeing on the surface, and after the twentieth or so Hotpoint commercial recitation, you start to get it. Still, there’s a patience in the execution that makes the most of the muddled material and allows her to carry the film. Ricci shows here why no one really argues how underrated she is anymore; her skill is quite evident again.

The second sine qua non is how the film lives and breathes. In that respect, Monstrous is five stars all the way. The 1950s setting is pitch perfect right down to the window dressing. This isn’t one of those overly dark films that tries to raise tension by leaving too much to your imagination in a blackened doorway. Instead, there’s plenty of sun and harsh desert that adds another visual layer. The cinematography is likewise complementary and damn fine; the monster’s first appearance is a great example. The musical cues are in just the right places, and who doesn’t love ‘50s music?

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Where Monstrous falters to a moderate degree is in the clarity of the writing and application to the screen, aka that fabled third necessity. There are open plot threads going enticing places that ultimately don’t get addressed, let alone solved. The aforementioned twist hit me just a few minutes in, and I don’t mind that as much as I mind the vague and lazy way the reveal goes down. Does it kill the enjoyability of the story or its ability to hold your attention well enough? Absolutely not. Monstrous stands well enough on its own two feet and has atmosphere to spare.

Monstrous is also a killer look at how domestic violence affects people on all sides while also being very directly a film that’s all about grief. It takes a little too long to wrap all the messages up together with an effective punch (and it is effective). Not everyone needs a film to say something more, but if that’s your cup of tea then Monstrous may have some rewatch value for you. If you’re looking for something nimble enough to dance its way out of the no-man’s land that is the PG-13 horror thriller, then you may have to look elsewhere.

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Movie: 3 Star Rating Cover

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Stuart D. Monroe
Staff Reviewer
Stuart D. Monroe is a man of many faces – father, husband, movie reviewer, published author of short horror, unsuccessful screenwriter (for now), rabid Clemson Tiger, Southern gentleman, and one hell of a model American who goes by the handle "Big Daddy Stu" or "Sir". He's also highly disturbed and wears that fact like a badge of honor. He is a lover of all things horror with a particular taste for the fare of the Italians and the British. He sometimes gets aroused watching the hardcore stuff, but doesn't bother worrying about whether he was a serial killer in a past life as worrying is for the weak. He was raised in the video stores of the '80s and '90s. The movie theater is his cathedral. He worships H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, and Clive Barker. When he writes, he listens obsessively to either classical music or the works of Goblin to stimulate the neural pathways. His favorite movie is Dawn of the Dead. His favorite book is IT. His favorite TV show is LOST.
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