Christina Ricci, who is buzzing after her fantastic starring role in the popular Showtime series Yellowjackets, stars in the new psychological-horror film, Monstrous. Directed by Chris Sivertson (All Cheerleaders Must Die, Lucky McKee), the film paints a bleak tale about a woman and her young son desperate to escape her abusive ex-husband. After finally relocating to a beautiful lakeside home, she soon realizes that she has a whole new set of horrifying problems that she must deal with.
In Monstrous, Laura (Christina Ricci) has packed up all of her possessions and has fled with her young son Cody (Santino Barnard). Laura is apparently escaping her abusive ex-husband to a picturesque rented cottage, adjacent to a lake. Cody, however, misses his father and is desperate to return back home to, what appears to be, 1950s California. The fully-furnished rental home they escape to is owned by the Langtrees (Colleen Camp and Don Durrell).
Laura soon sets to trying to restore some normalcy to her and Cody’s lives. Subsequently, she quickly lands a typical 1950s office job, working in a secretarial pool. Her boss, Mr. Alonzo (Lew Temple), is also something straight out of 1950s central casting. Cody, however, is not happy and is also convinced that there is a monster from the nearby lake that is visiting his bedroom.
Laura pushes forward, enrolling Cody in a new school. However, he has trouble meeting and making new friends. Additionally, the boy continues to be stalked by the horrific entity that continues to emerge from the lake. The monster takes on numerous forms: liquid, skeletal, swamplike, or something made of decaying fabric. Soon though, Cody finds himself being drawn to the lake. That’s when Laura’s world begins to collapse around her.
Monstrous has a creepy 1950s and early 1960s aesthetic and personality that is riffing on the pulp stories from that era like The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone. The viewer sees colors that pop, freshly pressed checkered skirts, and cheerful personalities. However, under the surface, there is something bubbling that is frightening and unknown. Unfortunately, Carol Chrest’s screenplay is fairly predictable prose. Laura delivers some dialogue very early on that practically hits you over the head with regards to what is actually going on.
The film’s retro look is key to the creepy vibe that it gives off from its opening moments and cinematographer Senda Bonnet does a fine job. She makes Monstrous look like a throwback to a simpler and “better” time, yet also effectively creepy and ominous. The classic musical cuts from the 1950s, such as “Mr. Sandman” from The Chordettes’ also effectively contribute to the facade that is being created.
Monstrous displays solid cinematography, and a fantastic performance by Christian Ricci. However, one cannot get past the fact that it is a fairly paint-by-numbers horror film. The single mother trying to protect her son has been used over and over again in the genre. This screenplay doesn’t do its retelling any favors. Further, the “why won’t anyone believe me” trope is not used effectively here. The shocking twist that comes in the final act of the film is easily predictable. Monstrous is by far a bad movie. Its fatal flaw, however, is that it’s predictable.
Monstrous belongs wholly to Christina Ricci who is, as per usual, fantastic in this film. The actress shifts between artificial cheeriness and impending dread effortlessly. Ricci has been a part of our cinematic lives since her breakout performance as ‘Wednesday Addams’ in The Addams Family (1991). The actress has embraced the “scream queen” persona of late, starring in such fare as The Lizzie Borden Chronicles (2015), Distorted (2018), and 50 States of Fright (2020). Ricci is basically carrying Monstrous on her shoulders and turns in a fantastic performance.
The rest of the cast of Monstrous has little to do, and that includes Santino Barnard as Laura’s young son. He certainly looks the part of a troubled and unhappy child, but his dialogue in this film is basically just a series of cliches. Colleen Camp as Ms. Langtree is the only other character in Monstrous that has anything meaningful to do. As a grouchy and mistrusting homeowner, Camp chews up the scenery in the few scenes she’s in.
The cast of Monstrous is rounded out by Lew Temple, who portrays Laura’s generic and bland office boss, Mr. Alonzo. Rachel Edlow appears multiple times throughout the film as a mysterious brunette. Additionally, Nick Vallelonga, who won two Academy Awards for writing and producing Green Book (2018) basically has a walk-on role as a drunken legionnaire who hits on Laura in a bar, asking for a dance. Peter Hodge, Sally Elbert, Carol Anne Watts, Neraida Bega, and Darin Cooper also have supporting roles in the film.
While Monstrous may not be the year’s best horror film, it allows us to watch Christina Ricci shine in a dominating performance. Unfortunately, save for a few flashbacks showing us Laura’s troubled adolescence, the screenplay never fully unpacks the trauma and grief that is hinted at and implied throughout the film. A better script with characters that are more fleshed out with a substantive backstory would have done wonders.
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