Written by: Matt Patti | August 10th, 2020
Monstrous (Bruce Wemple, 2020) 2½ out of 4 stars.
The mythical (or is it?) Bigfoot/Sasquatch monster has been a staple of American culture for quite some time. The story of a powerful, tall, hairy beast that walks on two feet and, yes, has large feet, has been the subject of many urban legends and conspiracy theories. However, surprisingly, when it comes to films, there aren’t many widely acclaimed Bigfoot-horror features out there. The ones that do exist are mostly smaller indie films which, unfortunately, from the ones I’ve seen, have not been very good. I was expecting Monstrous to be in the same vein as these other sub-par low-budget Bigfoot features, but thankfully I was treated to a pleasant surprise. Not only does Monstrous tell an interesting Bigfoot story that is genuinely scary, it also adds in a few other unexpected elements that add to the intrigue of the plot.
The film begins in Michigan, where a young, lonely woman named Sylvia (Anna Shields, The Executioners) has agreed to drive another young woman Alex (Rachel Finniger) back to her home in Whitehall, New York, after responding to her online posting. Whitehall, Alex’s hometown, is in the middle of the woods in the Adirondacks, where there have been many Bigfoot sightings and disappearances recently, so many that the town proudly sells merchandise and advertises it as the home of Bigfoot. Although seemingly doing it for the money, Sylvia has another, more personal reason for heading to Whitehall: her friend went missing there some time ago. While searching for her friend, Sylvia finds that Bigfoot isn’t the only thing she has to worry about in the Adirondacks.
This film explores a concept that I’ve long loved seeing in both horror movies and in any movies in general: the idea of duality in danger. The main draw of Monstrous is Bigfoot and throughout the film it presents the greatest danger … most of the time. At other times, Sylvia is faced with other obstacles and another danger in the woods that is of equal or sometimes even greater danger than Bigfoot. The best aspect of the film is the question it poses of “which danger is worse,” with Sylvia having to choose what danger to take on and which one to run away from. This question constantly brews in the viewer’s mind and it is interesting to see how Sylvia responds to the dilemma.
In addition to the interesting central theme of duality, the film also delivers effective scares and suspenseful, tension-filled scenes. Most of these tense scenes emerge from Sylvia being stuck between two different horrors, but even scenes with only one present danger are executed quite well for the most part and deliver solid, genuine, earned scares, even if a few are jump scares. The creature/costume design of Bigfoot is excellent and may be the best one I’ve seen in a film. The filmmakers follow the golden rule of not showing the creature in its entirety at first, leaving the viewer with horrifying glimpses of the large creature amongst the shadows. It has been said many times before: what cannot be seen is often scarier than what can be seen. Even when the creature does appear in its entirety, the costume design is superb and very realistic.
Unfortunately, as great as the aforementioned aspects of the film are, I feel like there isn’t enough time spent on them. The film has an overly long set-up and the first act drags a bit, with Sylvia and Alex traveling road-trip-movie-style to the Adirondacks. Once they get to the Adirondacks, the film gets instantly more interesting, but a bit too much time is spent on the trip from Michigan to New York. Also, Sylvia’s intentions for going on the trip are very unclear at first, and her actions don’t quite make sense sometimes. The film also has a laughable amount of sex and/or kissing scenes that feel very out of place. The characters participating in these scenes have just met each other, yet they have sex or make out about 5 separate times before the halfway point of the film is even reached, so it is a bit distracting and unrealistic.
Despite some of its flaws and annoyances, Monstrous still delivers an interesting, frightening Bigfoot tale featuring other horror elements as the cherry on top. Anna Shields provides a great performance as Sylvia, even if some of the supporting cast is underwhelming. The conclusion of the film lasts a tad too long and meanders a bit, but is ultimately satisfying. Overall, Monstrous takes a bite out of the traditional Bigfoot stories while adding in new, different elements in a very clever way. It may be the best Bigfoot-centered horror film I’ve seen. Here’s to hoping that there are even better ones to come in the future.