The Monster is a stunningly simple but fierce horror film that departs from the genre's fast-paced contemporary tendencies (including director Bryan Bertino's own The Strangers) in favor of the seeping dread of old-school horror. It's a full-fledged monster movie, but Bertino delays the reveal until halfway through the film, writing the first half like a thrilling play in a confined space; his two leads are tit for tat, arguing and trading cutting remarks until they realize how high the stakes are.
Mom Kathy (Zoe Kazan) and daughter Lizzy (Ella Ballentine) clash on nearly everything. Kazan makes Kathy a convincing, petulant mom who's just as much a child as her daughter, while Ballentine (who's also the new Anne of Green Gables) infuses her character with adult anxieties as she frets about the blood-drenched wolf her mother has just hit, taking their car out of commission on the rainy, barren road. The wolf is a puddle of wet matted fur, headlights just coasting over its body and illuminating it with a shadow and mystique, but it's also a red herring.
When the monster does finally show his face, he's appropriately terrifying, and the thick streams of rain pounding down on the scene -- headlamps reflecting in puddles -- disorients. An ill-fated tow-truck driver loses a limb to the monster and crawls from the mud at the edge of the woods across the road, like that frightening crawl of the carnies in 1932's Freaks. The faint mist, the eerie silence, the saturated blacks -- so much of this film is reminiscent of the classic monster movies of the '30s and '40s.