Implicit in most narratives of monstrosity is how elements foreign and animalistic, are somehow unfailingly human. We understand implicitly that Frankenstein’s monster is who we are, because it is in the existence of birth that we must begin life accepting the world on its surface. The monster is the child who enters the world a screaming id, wanting only to quench their desires with no regard for social or legal mores. Much fodder can be made of the monstrous in horror. Sometimes the monstorious is about the very human desire to survive above all things, or the power of the psyche to inhibit and change our physical appearance. An interesting movie along these lines is Bryan Bertino’s The Monster, seemingly a Cujo-like story of a mother and daughter who hit something on the road one stormy night and their perilous fight to survive the animal-like thing stalking them.
Using the idea of monstrosity to evince a particularly inhuman character study, The Monster, shows how a mother Kathy (Zoe Kazan) abuses her daughter Lizzy (Ella Ballentine). Frequently we see flashbacks of Kathy screaming at her daughter or drunkenly snatching the keys from her when she tries to hide them to keep her from drunk driving. The movie asks us to consider not the creature stalking Kathy and Lizzy, but the past iteration of Kathy who has menaced her daughter. Here we have the narrative of monstrosity, as it so frequently is compared with the humans involved in the story. What is more monstrous, a creature hunting its prey or an alcoholic subjecting her child to abuse and abandonment? What makes the narrative interesting is the sacrifice Kathy makes in the last half of the movie. Seemingly faced with a her or me situation, Kathy opts to have the monster kill her so her daughter can escape. A fairly normal sacrifice for the genre ;however, it becomes apparent that the sacrifice did little to actually save Lizzy from the monster. Her mother is killed and then Lizzy must face the monster alone.
There’s a sweet absurdity to this. While there may be a tendency to see this sacrifice as lacking the gravitas called for in a movie about life and death, the action resonates with Katy’s character and subsequently Lizzy. Most movies that hinge on parent-child relationships in the genre are about how to bury your parents, sometimes quite literally as in this movie and other times, psychologically. How do characters move beyond the childhood traumas to a place where they both become themselves, but also accept what has come before. This is the struggle of all relationship, parental ones especially. The Monster draws this line by using both flashbacks and the real-time action of the film to illustrate a parent who can only make a gesture at love. Kathy, even in her death, neglects her child, believing in the parlance of addiction that the world, especially her daughter’s, would function much better without her. Within her pyrrhic sacrifice, Kathy shows the folly and nobility of her character. The action means Lizzy has to bury her parent and then fully become herself in the space of ten minutes of screen time. While the movie is interesting and well-acted, the real import comes from this character trajectory. The death of Lizzy’s mother is in some ways the killing of the monster. The act of her mother’s sacrifice answers not only how do I bury my parents, but who was she and who am I? The movie is exceptional not because of gore, creature effects, or tension, but simply because the characters sketched give the viewer a trajectory of mother-daughter, childhood trauma and addiction, asserting a truth that every viewer can understood if not identify with. Like Lizzy, the viewer understands the gesture of love is more important than the result of the sacrifice and living beyond trauma means taking the good and killing the monster.