Christina Ricci continues to make fascinating choices to add to her filmography. She’s phenomenal as Misty in “Yellowjackets.” Her latest feature, Monstrous, is another fine addition to her resume. It’s a film wrapped in 1950s nostalgia, including B movie creature features. However, it blends the old school with the new fairly well. The result is an engaging thriller that looks gorgeous.
Ricci plays Laura, a mother who resettles in a quiet California home with her 7-year-old son, Cody (Santino Barnard). However, her abusive ex hangs over them like a shadow they can’t quite shake. Somehow, he even gets their new number and won’t stop calling. Laura’s anxiety whenever the phone rings feels real and palpable. This is a credit to Ricci’s brilliant acting. Cody, meanwhile, struggles to make friends at school. When his mom wants to throw him a b-day party, he doesn’t want her to because he’s sure no one will show up. Cody instead retreats to his bedroom, which has a beautiful view of a pond. However, he’s convinced a creature lives in it, who he refers to as “the pretty lady.”
Director Chris Siverston and writer Carol Chrest chose to use the creature sparingly. It creeps into Cody’s bedroom as a trail of water that morphs into a monster. It’s generally effective. The real horror, however, is Laura’s trauma. Though it’s never fully revealed what her ex did to her, it’s clear she was shaken enough to relocate and not even allow Cody to speak to him. More is revealed in the last 30 minutes, but the hints are there early enough if you’re paying close attention.
This film’s visuals deserve so much praise. The pastel colors pop and dazzle, including Laura’s dresses, the baby blue car she drives, and the interior of the house. Senda Bonnet’s cinematography really deserves applause here as well, especially the shots of the natural land and night sky around Simi Valley, California. This is one stunning film. This movie also makes stellar use of 1950s hits, like “Mr. Sandman.” It wraps you in a dream-like state of warm nostalgia. There’s even a constant ad for a Hotpoint dishwasher that continually plays on the radio and TV. Watching the movie, you feel transported to a different time.
Yet, the film constantly bends the sense of reality. There’s the “pretty lady” from the pond, but whenever Laura doses off on the couch, her dreams become more and more surreal. At one point, she becomes the damsel in distress in a B-movie. In another dream, everything in the living room melts like a Dali painting. It’s difficult to tell what she’s imagining and what’s actually happening, but it works surprisingly well.
Further, watching Laura evolve into a fiercely protective mother and all-around outspoken badass is another highlight. She even stands up to her horrible landlords, quits her boring job, and downs mini liquor bottles. She busts any pre-conceived notion about how a 1950s woman should act, while still doing whatever she can to protect her son. Ricci always makes cool look so easy.
Monstrous is not a movie about gore or a high body count. That’s not the type of horror this film is going for. Instead, it’s about a woman’s trauma and how she processes it. While the ending is slightly predictable, it’s one of the most visually stunning thrillers of the year. Ricci has another solid film to add to her already stellar career.
Brian Fanelli is a poet and educator who also enjoys writing about the horror genre. His work has been published in The LA Times, World Literature Today, Schuylkill Valley Journal, Horror Homeroom, and elsewhere. On weekends, he enjoys going to the local drive-in theater with his wife or curling up on the couch, and binge-watching movies with their cat, Giselle.