The names Matt Shaw and Michael Bray should come as no surprise to anyone. The both of them have certainly been putting fiction of a high quality into the world for some time now. But at some point, the desire to spread out into new mediums clearly took hold and the two authors grabbed the steering wheel to embark on a journey. To shoot a film based on their own work. And what we have before us is the result I was finally able to watch on this side of the Atlantic.
I’ll be totally honest and admit that I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I watched in real time as Matt and Michael departed on this endeavor, watching the various fund drives and updates that were posted to the project. I had no doubt in either their passion or their creative drive but making the jump from one medium to the other isn’t just something you do. You don’t just wake up one day and decide to shoot a movie instead of writing a book.
Except that seems to be exactly what they did.
And the result is possibly one of the best horror films I have seen in recent years.
Monster tells the story of a family replete with depraved violence, seemingly all centered around the care for the pair’s disfigured son. They kidnap and murder, among their more tame offenses and you quickly get the sense as the viewer that we have been plunged into the midst of a crime spree that has been going on for a long time. And despite the horrific things which this family proceeds to do over the course of this movie, I found myself unable to look away, from the characters themselves being so rich and compelling.
And along those lines, I have to give credit to the phenomenal acting. It’s hard to do characters like these without the performance coming off as silly or a caricature. Certainly, Hollywood has beaten to death all the tropes surrounding killers, it’s hard to not worry that this will be another stroll down everything we have come to expect from these kind of films. But despite working in a context of fewer set pieces and having to carry much of the drama with their performances, both Rod Glenn and Tracy Shaw were brilliant in the role of the parental figures of this family.
Glenn brought an incredibly unique intensity to this, clearly putting all into this role. He occupied the breadth of most scenes he was in, communicating with facial expressions and body language and tone what many actors would be incapable of. As a father, he was a force to be reckoned with in that film and as an actor, he was just as much a force to be reckoned with as well. And Shaw brilliantly communicated the bleak despair of that character, dispensing with a simple quirk of the mouth or a glare in her eyes a mountain of emotion.
There is very little of a score to the film, I’m sure due to the lower budget of the project. But while this would normally be a major loss for me, I thought that it actually enhanced the experience of the story here. For me, while the movie might have felt less “cinematic”, the stripped-down feel of the sound lent this a feel of a documentary, which just made the subject matter that much more chilling. I felt like an immobile observer, forced to take in the horrors of this house.
If I had any complaint, it would be that the ending felt a tad on the rushed side and I think it could have benefited from being drawn out a little longer. Still, this issue was minor and I would still classify this as a stellar directorial debut from Shaw. This is not going to be for everyone. You should be prepared for a tough story to stomach but it’s a ride that will move you, that much is guaranteed.