Damn near a century ago writer/director Bryan Bertino hit us hard with one of my favorite recent horror flicks The Strangers. Man I love that movie! (SJP FUN FACT: I have a framed poster of The Strangers hanging in Dry Guy Studio were we record the SJP Podcast). Bertino proved he was a force of a director and I was on board with what he had to offer. Sadly, Bertino went dark for a stretch and I had all but given up hope. To be fair a few years back he did Mockingbird for BH Tilt (direct to Netflix found footage flick), a solid flick, but left a little to be desired. As do most found footage flicks. Thankfully, Bertino is back at it and this time he brought  the big guns: tight story, crazy monster and some of the best damn acting you will see on the screen this year. The Monster is here and I don’t think I have enough bandwidth to express how great it is…

Kathy (Zoe Kazan) is a young mother with a whole lot of problems. Like A LOT of problems. You know the term “Hot Mess Mom”?  Kathy would need a couple of interventions and a court ordered trip to rehab before she could work her way up to ‘Hot Mess’. While driving to drop off her daughter Lizzy (Ella Ballentine) to her father, Kathy hits an animal on a dark and deserted mountain road and end up stranded. Not long after, Kathy and Ellie soon realize they whatever made the wolf run in front of their car is still lurking in the woods and has a hankering for Hot Mess Moms…

Bertino can set tone and mood better than any director out right now. Within the first few shots the movie oozes with dread and you know horrible things are coming. The real beauty of The Monster is that these horrible things don’t just come the titular monster, but from every character on-screen. Particularly, Kathy. She is a fall down drunk who, by all rights, should not be responsible for her own life, let alone a small child. Zoe Kazan is giving a goddamned powerhouse performance. Her acting is the best you are going to see on-screen this year. Zoe plays Kathy completely despicable, but Kathy is not a one-sided monster, she loves her daughter and has a demon she is battling inside herself. An alcoholic having a child at a young age normally doesn’t work out well for anyone and this is the case here, but Kathy wants whats best for Lizzy. And what’s best for Lizzy is getting far away from Kathy and  Kathy knows that. Lizzy is the oldest 10-year-old on the face of the earth. With a small cast and an actor delivering like Zoe Kazan is here, the co-star cannot slack in the acting depart and thankfully Ella Ballentine is more than up for the job. She goes toe to toe with Zoe and helps sell this beast in the drama department. These two together hit me right in the feels and I would be lying if I said I didn’t tear up more than a couple of times. Damn, movie making me feel…

Speaking of beasts…

The Monster does, infact, feature a monster. Not just the metaphorical kind (like alcoholism or feelings), but an honest to god, blood thirsty, terrifying monster. The way god intended them to be: practical and onscreen. I’m some CGI is used, but the bulk of this beast practical and badass. A hulking, dark void with teeth that is pure animal. Vicious and hungry. It’s great to have a movie that packs this kind of emotional punch that features a practical monster. A drama laced creature feature! Who would have guessed!

The Monster is not just the best horror movie of the year. It’s the best movie of the year. Period. Zoe Kazan delivers a performance of a lifetime and is a force of acting greatness. Backed up by the endearing and insanely talented Ella Ballentine, these two give the best on-screen performances I have seen in a long time. If you took the ‘monster’ out of The Monster, you would still have an amazing, heartbreaking movie. But fortunately for us genre fans, The Monster is indeed a horror flick. It’s just more than just claws and death. This monster has teeth and holy shit, does it bite!

A24 will release THE MONSTER In Theaters and On Demand on November 11.  The film is available now exclusively on DirecTV.