Monstrous

***

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Monstrous
"The whole film hinges on Ricci’s performance and as such it provides a means for her to demonstrate that she’s still got what it takes."

Sometimes the situation at home is so unbearable that one has no choice but to pack up the car and go, leaving it all behind, hoping to make a fresh start somewhere new. That’s how Laura (Christina Ricci) finds her way to the house by the lake, on the outskirts of a small town where she will get a job as a typist and where she hopes her son will be able to find friends at school. Determined no to think about what she’s been through in the past, she’s stubbornly upbeat, her brightly coloured dresses and bright smile enlivening everything around her, but she will have her work cut out to stay that way.

It begins with night terrors. She hears Cody (Santino Barnard) crying out at night, and he insists that someone has been in his room. He takes to wandering near the lake and seems to be alternately drawn to and frightened by something within it. Her initial concern about it being a dangerous place to play gradually hardens into a different sort of fear. What if they are facing a supernatural threat? Struggling to reconcile two different ways of understanding the world, she tries to keep it together, to be a good mother, to focus on keeping Cody safe and happy, but at the same time she is increasingly taking refuge in alcohol.

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The whole film hinges on Ricci’s performance and as such it provides a means for her to demonstrate that she’s still got what it takes. Although she doesn’t have a lot of room to manoeuvre early on, when her character is trying hard to keep her emotions buttoned down and distract everyone with that happy façade, there are moments of real magic later, notably when she’s dancing with an older man and we see something much deeper bubbling to the surface. When the film pivots, with director Chris Sivertson suddenly plunging us into a very different situation, the way she expresses her disorientation is dizzying.

Not every aspect of the film is as strong as this. Sivertson struggles with the dénouement, which is overlong and overindulgent, twee where it should be hard-hitting and cathartic. Budgetary limitations are all too apparent, especially in the special effects, but the strong central aesthetic, taking in everything from costumes to cars to wallpaper, helps to overcome this and gives the whole thing more impact. Its final scenes aside, the film is well structured and Sivertson handles its ambiguities with skill. It’s a modest little piece, primarily concerned with character, and for fans of Ricci’s work, it’s a treat.

Reviewed on: 13 May 2022
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Monstrous packshot
A woman who is traumatised by an abusive relationship runs away from her former husband with her seven-year-old son, but in their new, idyllic and remote sanctuary, they find they have another, bigger and more terrifying monster to deal with

Director: Chris Sivertson

Starring: Christina Ricci, Santino Barnard, Colleen Camp

Year: 2022

Runtime: 89 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US

Festivals:

Glasgow 2022

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