It’s not easy for a working single mother of a young son in a new place, Laura Butler having relocated to the valleys and rented a remote house beyond the dry grass and scrub bush hills to share with Cody, deliberately cutting contact with her ex-husband and her friends lest he use them to track her down, but cowboy patterned curtains and bedsheets don’t keep Cody’s nightmares away.
Driving her Chevrolet down the winding road in her prim white shoes and red polka dot skirt Laura tells Cody that it’s like a dream, that this is their perfect world, but Laura is unhappy in her new secretarial position and Cody is finding it difficult at school, and at night the lake stirs with something monstrous which enters the house, manifesting in the shape of their fears.
Starring Yellowjackets’ Christina Ricci and Penny Dreadful: City of Angels’ Santino Barnard, Monstrous is directed by I Know Who Killed Me’s Chris Siverston from a script by Carol Chrest, set in the sun-drenched perfection of fifties California, Laura the houseproud mother who makes white bread sandwiches with the crusts cut off but won’t answer the ringing telephone.
Called by the terrified Cody to his room where he tells her he has seen “the pretty lady,” Laura’s façade of composure is as cracked as the face of her disapproving landlady Mrs Langtree (Colleen Camp) who wears judgement like maquillage, striving towards the impossible goal of being like the contented housewives in their immaculate kitchens of the television commercials which bombard her.
The disconnected elements and events of Monstrous never flowing together to become a cohesive story, Ricci’s role is as superficial as the kitsch knick-knacks which surround her in a film which is more about appearances rather than exploring the depths, Barnard excellent in his confusion and terror but the rest of the characters as replaceable as wallpaper, the emotion floating without anchor in an unshaped void.
The presence which haunts them symbolic rather than literal, grief and denial granted a monstrous, blackened form, the eventual revelations are met with a shrug rather than a gasp, ninety minutes too long to spend reaching a destination which was misrepresented from the beginning, a frustrating plunge which might have worked better without waving digital fronds and screaming skulls which swamp the undercurrents of what would have been better as an understated personal story.
Glasgow Film Festival concluded on Sunday 13th March
Monstrous will be available on digital download from Monday 11th July