Rating: 3 out of 5.

Christina Ricci has always made some truly fascinating choices in her filmography. I have been following her career since 1991’s The Addams Family, and Monstrous is no doubt an intriguing addition to an already-stellar career. In this unconventional horror thriller, Ricci plays a loving mother, Laura, who relocates with her 7-year-old son Cody (Santino Barnard) to a quaint home out in California. Her abusive ex-husband hangs over Laura like a dark cloud, and she can only pray his toxicity has not followed them…

Laura’s new landlords are terrible, particularly a woman convinced that Laura is up to no good. Cody’s new room has a massive desk and a beautiful view overlooking “the pond,” which to me looked like more of a lake. Initially, it really seems like Laura and Cody could start a beautiful new life here. Before long, the ominous splash of a creature in “the pond” and Cody’s sudden obsession with “The Pretty Lady from the pond” are nearly as threatening as Laura’s ex, who somehow finds their new phone number and begins incessantly calling. A mummy-looking monster that materializes in a steaming mass on Cody’s bed may spell doom for Laura’s calculated new sanctuary of escape.

Channeling classic Americana and soundtrack oldies like “Mr. Sandman,” Monstrous uses a period-setting to establish a narrative that drowns the viewer in metaphorical subtext. Old school vibes wrapped me in a warm blanket of nostalgia, meeting the fine point between modern horror and classic horror. Grief and trauma are also caught in the crosshairs—Monstrous is a movie that only comes together fluidly in its final thirty minutes. The twist is somewhat predictable (having been seen before in tons of films), but is executed quite well.

In an admirably smart move from director Chris Silvertson (the underrated Lindsay Lohan horror film, I Know Who Killed Me), we only see the monster sparingly. Gore and kills are really not on the agenda here. The focus instead stays on the trauma of Laura’s past. Character depth and Ricci’s committed turn as a fiercely protective mother is just the swamp-drenched cherry on top. I wish the strengths of the latter half folded seamlessly into the slowly-paced first act; as it stands, Monstrous is a solid enough horror/mystery.    

Monstrous screened at the 2022 FrightFest Glasgow, and creeps out of the water when it releases later this year.

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