Monstrous (2020)

Directed by Bruce Wemple

Written by Anna Shields

Monstrous surprised me.  The marketing of this movies suffers from relying on selling a psychological thriller wrapped in the guise of a creature feature.  Spoiler 1:  There is not a lot of Big Foot happening here.  There’s some—it’s not a total lie—but the majority of the film is a droning and sick build of tension between the two main actresses. 

“Yea, Sylvia, It’s totally safe to track down a Squatch while on a Craigslist gig with a potential  serial killer.  I can’t handle burritos though…”

The bulk of the film is an unexpected quest for Sylvia (Anna Shields also the writer) to find out the truth behind the disappearance of her best friend Dana.  Dana was last seen heading on a Craigslist gig to drive a person named Alex to a house in the woods. After Dana’s disappearance, Jaime, a mutual friend of the girls played by Grant Schumacher is convinced Dana’s disappearance is linked to a Sasquatch alleged to be abducting young women in the area of the Appalachian Mountains where Dana was last seen.  Determined to find her, Jaime tracks down a similar craigslist ad by an Alex and intends to recreate Dana’s ill-fated adventure on his own, requesting Sylvia follow the pair on the road to make sure nothing goes wrong.  When Jaime comes down with a case of food poisoning, Sylvia steps up to the job after realizing this Alex is a woman.

Right off the bat we find something amiss with Alex portrayed by model and occasional actress Rachel Finninger. She is friendly and charming but exudes a knotted darkness from the moment she appears on screen.  It’s obvious beyond Sylvia’s immediate suspicions of Alex’s role in Dana’s disappearance, that she can tell something isn’t quite right but she is blinded by Alex’s charm.  The cinematography on their road trip into the mountains is captivating and warm.  The style of the film is incredibly inviting considering the content mirroring Alex’s façade as a socially troubled hermit with an alluring exterior. 

This scene is an actual measurement of how often Bigfoot appears in the film and the blackness represents the percentage of psychodrama between Sylvia and Alex.

The girls progressively reveal their secrets to one another and Alex appears almost eager to overshare some devious and occasionally deranged details of her past.  I read a lot of comments immediately after watching that seemed hung up on the films use of erotic scenes between the Alex and Sylvia—I am here to assure you it’s no more a focal feature than most dramas and there’s zero nudity. Even in 2020 horror films focusing on a same sex relationship are hard to come by and some viewers may have been hung up on because it’s surprisingly still a novelty.  The emotional sway of desire is a powerful theme in this film. Every time Alex starts to lose control of the narrative or feels Sylvia might be suspicious, she turns the conversation sexual or offers up a drink to take the edge off.  Alex’s secrets are a controlled test to see how much Sylvia can take.

Reminder:  Minimal “Squatch” as Jaime lovingly refers to his creature suspect in the beginning.  Sasquatch is a framework that drives home the theme:  what we fear and what we should fear are often very different things.  Which leads me to another SPOILER:  The Sasquatch is a sort of neighbor at Alex’s cabin and it is not a fan of hers.  She has set up an ultrasonic deer deterrent that the Sasquatch also hates, the device only works when the electricity remains on.  Why the survival savvy Alex living in the snowy woods never invested in a backup generator is a pressing question considering how much the creature hates her.

Finninger’s performance carried the entire film for me.  While she is a striking and statuesque woman, that was completely overshadowed by her execution portraying mysterious Alex.  She’s the modern interpretation of tall, dark, and handsome, managing to be both exactly what she seems and not at all what she seems all at once.  The last two thirds of the movie left me with a queasy pit in my stomach that lingered a full 24 hours later.

The minimal special effects are nothing noteworthy.  Considering on how much the marketing relied on Big Foot despite its tiny role in the film, the least they could have done is conjure up a better looking creature.  The nightmare fuel is all manifested by the real people.  It’s going to strike a deeper cord with someone like me who never thought twice about going on an adventure with a stranger—still wouldn’t change my mind, but I could definitely see myself in this misadventure. 

If they made a prequel to this film, I wouldn’t be mad.  There were a lot of questions that were merely glazed over.  We only know snippets of Alex’s life and some of it can be assumed to be made up.  She is obsessed with the truth but never hesitates to lie if it serves her narrative.  I also saw a lot of complaints about the editing of the film on IMDB reviews but I can’t say I have many. How relevant the story of Sylvia’s sister’s death that it warranted such a recurrent appearance in the film is debatable.  There may have been more flashbacks related to her sister’s accidental death than there was Big Foot screen time—and we all came her anticipating Big Foot screen time!

There is gore. It’s condensed to the second half of the film.  At one point there is a heavy nod to 2014’s Creep, a movie that ranks highly on my list of films from the last decade.  It’s the moment when the charade dissolves and suddenly we are left to face the overwhelming dread we could all see coming. The song playing in this pivotal scene that we view as a film within a film through a camcorder screen has been in my head now since I watched it.  The beautiful music** draping over the violence is haunting.  It is not a song playing on the soundtrack of the film, but intentional music the character plays from a boombox in the camcorder footage.

I really enjoyed the film.  It was suspenseful and raw.  It might not be for everyone but give it a chance.  Too many reviewers were so utterly disappointed by the lack of monster moments that they didn’t give it a fair shot.  If you only like Big Foot films maybe you won’t find anything worthwhile here, but if you’re a fan of Creep, Fatal Attraction, or Fear you may find something you like.  I want to note while this movie is far from perfect, it’s pretty good and I will label the ending with a word I rarely use on modern horror films: the ending was SATISFYING, it wasn’t executed perfectly and lacked the proper special effects to really sell it, but it was SATISFYING.

Pros:

  • Hypnotic performance by Rachel Finninger
  • On screen chemistry between Sylvia and Alex and Sylvia and Jaime
  • Innovative use of a Sasquatch as plot device (that’s the best way I can word it)
  • Juxtaposition of beauty and fear in all elements of the film
  • Well written

Cons:

  • Special effects makeup.  The wounds at the end were laughable with how visible the liquid latex seams were
  • Not enough Sasquatch
  • Too much subplot.  I’m not sure how the death of Sylvia’s sister was relevant enough to become a recurrent story in the film beyond driving home Sylvia does not have a great relationship with herself.

Written by Kimberly Pulsifer

crazysexyghoulblog@gmail.com

** To save you the search, the track is called “Into the Light” by Emorie and Neon Beach. The soundtrack listing was not available on IMDB so I tracked down Nate VanDeusen who was in charge of music for the film.

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