Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 18, 2022)
Given that I still think of Christina Ricci as adolescent Wednesday in 1991’s Addams Family, does it weird me out to see her as a 40-something who plays mothers? Yes, it does, but time marches on, and 2022’s Monstrous becomes the latest evidence of Middle-Aged Ricci.
Set in the 1950s, Laura Butler (Ricci) deals with the abuse of her ex-husband Scott (Matt Lovell). She takes her seven-year-old son Cody (Santino Barnard) and attempts to flee from this situation.
Situated in a remote location, Laura’s new life seems good, but matters change before long. Another issue arises that creates a serious threat to Laura and Cody.
On the surface, Monstrous feels like a difficult movie to discuss and still avoid spoilers. Suffice it to say that one shouldn’t take my plot synopsis at face value, as the movie throws out a mix of twists.
As much as I desire to leave those out of the review, I find myself tempted to relate them because it feels unlikely that the “curveballs” will genuinely startle anyone. Monstrous makes it obvious from early in its running time that it embraces fantasy, so the “surprises” feel borderline inevitable.
Monstrous works overtime to give Laura’s life a sense of unreality. For instance, her TV always seems tuned to the same ad in which Harriet Nelson sells Hotpoint appliances.
The movie doesn’t play this in a subtle manner that requires close attention. Indeed, it seems tough to imagine anyone who wouldn’t pick up on this weird “glitch in the matrix” quickly because the film shoves it in our faces so often.
The rest of the tale follows suit and leaves lots of breadcrumbs that we shouldn’t trust the reality of what we see. Monstrous plays like a TV sitcom fantasy of the 1950s, and it doesn’t take much insight to deduce the reason for this.
Again: no spoilers here, so I won’t spell out the plot twists. I remain convinced that these will catch few – if any – viewers by surprise because the filmmakers make the subtext so obvious.
Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I saw a movie that invested so much in its shifting reality but hid its secrets so poorly. Monstrous lacks even the slightest tension because we already feel pretty sure where it will go.
Actually, the biggest surprise I encountered stemmed from how quickly I figured out the “big reveal” at the end. I tend to go with the flow when I watch movies, so I don’t hang on every detail/clue to figure out what’ll happen before it happens most of the time.
For instance, I’m not one of those people who claimed he deduced the finale of Sixth Sense in advance. I’m not an idiot – though others may disagree – but I just tend to view movies as a ride without the need to attempt to “outsmart” the filmmakers.
I say this to reinforce how poorly Monstrous hides its twists. If even a chump like me can figure out 99 percent of the movie’s “secrets” within the story’s first 15 minutes or so, then the filmmakers didn’t do their job well.
This leaves Monstrous as a slow path to the inevitable. Ricci gives a pretty good performance as our lead, but she can’t overcome the flaws in her role and convince us to invest in Laura.
I don’t feel that way because Ricci fails to form an engaging personality. However, the inevitability of Laura’s fate keeps the viewer disengaged from her journey.
Really, after 10 to 15 minutes of semi-intrigue, Monstrous becomes tedious because we simply grow impatient to see the lead character catch up to the reality of the events we already know. A thriller without tension doesn’t work.