Christina Ricci plays a troubled mother in Monstrous, a supernatural thriller that premiered in the FrightFest strand of the Glasgow Film Festival and was recently acquired by Screen Media for North America. Written by Carol Chrest (The Prophet’s Game) and directed by Chris Sivertson (The Lost, I Know Who Killed Me), it morphs from stylish psychological drama to creature feature, delivering an impact that’s best appreciated after the credits roll.
The immaculately-dressed Laura (Ricci) drives her turquoise Chevy to a remote new home in California. With her is her seven-year-old son, Cody (Santino Barnard). They start to settle in, but sinister phone calls indicate that Laura’s abusive husband is intent on tracking them down. Meanwhile, Cody becomes fascinated by the nearby lake, where he claims a monster is lurking.
Much rests on strong performances from Ricci and Barnard, and both deliver turns that keep the attention and play with the script’s ambiguities.
Retro styling is also key: this is a purposefully idealized version of the ’50s, from the brightly colored flared dresses to The Chordettes’ “Mr Sandman.” The pop hits are alternated with an ominous score from composer Tim Rutili — it is clear that all is not as rosy as it might seem on the streets of the small town nearby, where people shoot suspicious glances at Laura and her son.
Visually, the monster draws from appropriate sources such as ’50s B movies, and its role eventually becomes clear. But it has mixed success in terms of horror scares. Monstrous is one of those tricky films that plays a little slowly, but invites a second viewing after the pay-off. Nonetheless, it’s a quietly thought provoking watch that will resonate with those who connect to its themes.
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