There are movies that shine with creating atmospheric terror and then there are movies that do exactly that but don’t let the audience engage in the terrors but instead show them everything and leave nothing to the imagination or anything to build the suspense, and unfortunately Monstrous falls into the latter category. Carol Chrest does a great job of creating this unsettling atmosphere for her audience but revealing too much too early on is the ultimate downfall and creates a rather lackluster finished product that leaves the audience craving for something more. As well director Chris Sivertson has had experience directing these atmospheric thrillers before, so this misstep is unusual for his resume.
The film focuses on Laura (Christina Ricci) and her son Cody (Santino Barnard) as they have left their life behind and moved to California escaping her abusive husband. However, this is just casually mentioned and almost feels like a throw away line as there is no real threat that the audience is exposed to, just exposition of it being a bad situation and that’s that. They move into a remote destitute cabin owned by the Langtrees (Don Baldaramos and Colleen Camp) that sits on a pond. They warn Laura and Cody to avoid the pond at all costs, no reason, but just that to avoid it. There is something clearly lurking in the pond, and Cody begins to have nightmares about the creature attacking him, and one night it does exactly that. More horrifying to him than his mother, who abruptly casually brushes it off.
The problem with Monstrous is that it tries to develop too many different issues and trying to decide if the monster is real or if it is just an active imagination of a child without developing anything too thoroughly. It keeps getting to the point of climax and reveal in a specific plot then drives to another issue and forgoes what it was trying to say.
However the real saving grace of Monstrous is Christina Ricci herself. She delivers a very passionate performance of a woman whose been abused and a mother who just wants to protect her son and do right by him. Her performance truly does carry the movie even if there are a few missteps with her character direction. Santino Bernard also delivers a very convincing performance and stands out alongside his motherly figure making the duo of performances enough to keep the audience engaged.
The performances certainly save Monstrous from taking its namesake into the audience experience, but the lack of following through and delivering some genuine terrors with stakes is where the movie falls apart. Hopefully whatever Carol Chrest and Chris Sivertson do in the future, they make sure to leave a little more to the imagination of their audience.