Christina Ricci is a type of actors who had each the luck and the misfortune to be completely forged in an iconic function at a really younger age. As a preteen within the early ’90s, she performed Wednesday Addams in The Addams Household and its sequel, and the function haunts her. Within the public creativeness, she is going to all the time be a pallid, creepy baby, concurrently sinister and lovable, with an air of Victorian spookiness. It doesn’t assist that she’s retained a girlishness into her 40s, with a tiny, birdlike body; huge, wide-set eyes; and the exact, buttoned-down method of somebody who needed to develop outdated earlier than her time.
Whereas her up to date Kirsten Dunst parlayed her ethereal efficiency in Interview with the Vampire into blockbuster main roles and arthouse acclaim, Ricci obtained typecast and light from view, not in contrast to Winona Ryder a decade earlier. It seems the answer wasn’t preventing the typecasting, however leaning into it. Together with her spectacular flip because the sociopathically cheerful loner Misty in 2021’s breakout collection Yellowjackets, Ricci lastly exorcised Wednesday Addams by summoning a brand new demon baby to take her place. Misty trades off Ricci’s picture however is totally beneath her management, and she or he’s layered with sudden comedy, pathos, and malice. It’s sufficient to lastly shift how folks consider Ricci and her profession.
Which makes this a great second for Ricci to tackle a number one function. She owns each minute of the modest creature function Monstrous, a Fifties-set chiller with a crafty secret. She performs Laura, a vivid and brittle mom to 7-year-old Cody (Santino Barnard). The pair are settling into a brand new life in a distant rented home in California in 1955. Cody is quiet however not sullen, whereas Laura is fiercely upbeat. It quickly turns into clear that they’ve fled a horrible scenario. Cody needs to go dwelling, however Laura guidelines it out. Cody says he forgives his father for no matter horror he’s dedicated, however Laura can’t.
Laura presses forward firmly with constructing a small-town idyll for them, enrolling Cody at school and discovering a job as a typist. However Cody is being stalked by one thing terrible that drags itself out of the lake close to the home. Regardless of the monster is, its side retains altering: generally liquid and oily, generally skeletal, generally billowing like a mass of pondweed or rotten cloth. It’s spooky stuff. After one horrifying encounter, Cody is abruptly drawn to the lake somewhat than repelled by it. He says “the gorgeous girl” needs him to hitch her there. That’s when Laura’s world begins falling aside.
Just like the very good 2020 UFO film The Vast of Night, Monstrous is riffing on Fifties pulp fiction, Twilight Zone chills, and the combo of worry and want impressed by one thing international and unknown ruffling the graceful floor of a airtight, orderly society. However the place that movie advised a easy yarn with an audacious, lived-in, widescreen fashion, Monstrous, directed by Chris Sivertson and written by Carol Chrest, brings an easy method to materials that has extra happening beneath the floor.
It is perhaps too simple. There’s one thing rote and inert concerning the world the movie builds: the gleaming chrome of Laura’s turquoise station wagon, the crisp define of her A-line skirts, the needle-drop of The Chordettes’ “Mr. Sandman.” There isn’t a notice misplaced in a tune we’ve heard a thousand instances earlier than. The dialogue feels constrained and lifeless, barely greater than useful, and Ricci initially strains uncomfortably in opposition to it, pushing her efficiency into prim fussiness. The movie solely involves life in a couple of fleeting moments: in Laura’s unusually testy encounters with the owner and his suspicious spouse (Don Baldaramos and Colleen Camp); in a silent, unexplained lengthy shot of one other boy operating away from Cody within the playground; and within the appearances of the monster, a multifaceted creation that’s all of the extra unsettling for being so troublesome to pin down within the thoughts’s eye.
Because it seems, a few of these selections could also be intentional. Monstrous is upended at some extent within the story that wouldn’t work almost so effectively if every little thing that preceded it wasn’t so deliberate and plainspoken. The late-film selections are efficient, however possibly arrive too late to redeem what’s come earlier than. If Chrest and Sivertson had invested much less in planning for this twist and extra in fleshing out the world and characters that construct as much as it — or, for that matter, in dealing sensitively and persuasively with the implications of its closing stretch — Monstrous could be a extra satisfying movie general.
What Monstrous does ultimately supply, although, is an opportunity to look at Christina Ricci drop the constructed artifice and ferocious management of so a lot of her performances and provides us one thing uncooked and unfiltered. For a second, we get to see previous Wednesday, and Misty, and even the Laura Monstrous has us following, and see the overwhelmed vulnerability beneath the floor. It’s a second of fact from an actor who’s normally requested to play to our preconceptions about her, and it’s a welcome jolt of actuality in an in any other case unusually indifferent little film.