The psychological-horror-thriller thriller realm has seen a mini-cycle of films over (roughly) the last decade that offer vibrant re-creations of the style of the ‘50s and early ‘60s. Identifying the elements of a sub-genre is always tricky and subjective. But Stoker, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, and Shirley come to mind. The new film Monstrous, directed by Chris Silverston certainly dips a toe into that pool, as well. Though it is, above all, a showcase for a powerful and nuanced turn by Christina Ricci.
Ricci plays Laura, the mother of young son. She heads to a nondescript small town to move into a lovely, furnished rental on the edge of a lake. The landlord (Don Durrell) is nice. His wife (Colleen Camp) isn’t.
Laura quickly develops a routine aimed at crafting an idyllic existence that includes cutting the crust off her son Cody’s ( Santino Barnard) Wonder Bread sandwiches before dropping him at school and slipping into her spot in a local company’s typing pool. The job is mind numbing, sometimes calling for Liquid Paper touches on Laura’s work with tedious but essential compliance forms.
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Phone calls from a possibly abusive ex begin to jangle Laura’s yellow rotary phone. Signs Cody doesn’t fit in at school also emerge, and the landlady is suspicious of drugs, and then there’s the lake creature.
A sinewy something seems to dwell in the murky water, and it wants Cody, even as other odd phenomenon plagues the rental house. Laura soon finds herself in a surreal struggle.
It’s the monstrous thing of the title that delivers on genre expectations, with dark, creepy moments and pulse-churning confrontations.
The effects for the creature are marvelous, as are a few other flourishes, and it contributes to the disintegration of Laura’s resolve, which Ricci conveys deftly with facial and tonal flourishes.
The essence of story will be familiar to regular genre viewers. There’s a dash of The Babdook and The Turn of the Screw, plus others which mentioning might mean spoiling Monstrous. The story definitely holds some clever surprises that are alluded to by subtle hints.
It’s the use of the ‘50s milieu in counterpoint to Laura’s struggles which really make this a unique outing, however. It’s stunningly and beautifully photographed, and Laura’s bell skirts punctuate the vision.
Monstrous leans toward psychological drama, but it’s a textured experience. Fans in search of sophisticated and intelligent filmmaking should be well satisfied.
Wicked Rating: 9/10
Director: Chris Sivertson
Writer: Carol Chrest
Starring: Christina Ricci, Santino Barnard, Colleen Camp, Carol Anne Watts.
Release: May 13, 2022 (Theaters and On Demand)
Runtime: 89 minutes