If you have 10 minutes—less, in fact—you should watch Monster, the short horror film Jennifer Kent made before directing The Babadook. The latter Australian film has received widespread kudos–and from the looks of its trailer, they are richly deserved. Nevertheless, if, in this month of All Hallow’s Eve, if you’d like a truly frightening experience with remarkable (and blessed) brevity, Monster is just that. The film creates a mood of fear by, in fact, not trying. It presents its story, with its mundanities and its horrors, nakedly and simply, with a minimum of fanfare–small details may either tell you a great deal about a character or scare the crap out of you. The story is a simple one: A woman lives alone with her son. The son is restless, because he thinks there is a monster in the house. Is there a monster? Oh yes. But, unlike other monsters, it is frightening simply by being frightening, and not because of the way it is presented to us. There are no jumps, no shadowy figures moving in the background, no gruesome faces popping up in the center of the screen; indeed, when the mother first sees the monster, thy make calm eye contact for few seconds, as if maybe the creature were a household pest. And then? Well, things get a little rough from that point forward. Kent films the story in a crisp, pristine black and white–the shadows that occur seem entirely in place, natural, not added for effect. The actors fit right into this schema; Susan Prior’s mother has a careworn appearance, and a relaxed way of speaking that will, ultimately, allow her to make peace in her home, a peace which would not be believable in other films but works quite nicely here. Luke Ikimis-Healey’s child of the house, similarly, manifests his fear believably and without too much over-acting. While none of thse characteristics would seem to be elements which make a horror film frightening, they do: in allowing us to feel comfortable inhabiting this world for a few minutes, we, as viewers, become more prey to its terrors.
Max Winter is the Editor of Press Play.