Female Filmmaker Friday: Monster (2003)

As part of our Female Filmmaker Friday series, we will bring films by women to everyone’s attention each Friday.

Based on the life and crimes of female serial killer Aileen Wuornos, “Monster” is an acclaimed true crime biography starring Charlize Theron and Christina Ricci that garnered Oscar nods and plenty of awards.

In this serial killer biography, writer/director Patty Jenkins creates a very realistic take on the genre, not glamorizing any of it but simply relating facts and adding a few filler scenes that altogether humanize Aileen Wuornos and show how evil can grow. Her take on the killer’s life is filled with sadness more than a simple recreation of her crimes. The way Monster, as a film, approaches its subject is respectfully for all parties involved while not shying away from the awful truth.

The film here is all about Wuornos and thus all about Charlize Theron’s performance in the role that earned her the Best Actress Academy Award in 2004. Most people are familiar with this part for her due to her weight gain and the serious de-glam that she did. However, this is not all she did for the part and the Academy noticed that. Here Theron plays Wuornos as a very human person in despair with layers of emotions and a depth to her presence and her performance that is what pulls the viewer in. She gives a powerhouse performance, and gives her character empathy and helps the viewer connect with her. Playing her love interest Selby is Christina Ricci who also underwent a serious de-glam and who gives great humanity and innocence to her character. She comes off vulnerable and caring, showing the one bit of warmth Wuornos saw in her life if the film is to be believed. Following in Theron and Ricci’s footsteps, the rest of the cast, including Bruce Dern, Lee Terfese, Scott Wilson, and Ann Corley, all give great, nuanced performances.

The film and its performances are shot in a serious, grim, almost grimy at times, atmosphere that gives the story a properly somber tone. The way the cinematography by director of photography Steven Bernstein creates a restrained style for Monster which fits perfectly for its story and tone. His work definitely helps create the atmosphere of the film and how the viewer sees the entire story.

While this biography is about a serial killer, the kills are not the central pieces of the film but the performances are. That being said, there are some special effects throughout the film. These were done under special effects coordinator Phillip Beck and they look realistic and add just the right amount of impact to the kills and other aspects they are involved in.

Monster is an almost masterpiece film and serial killer biography. It’s somber and honest while it does not glamorize Aileen Wuornos and gives her a bit of humanity. Here’s she’s presented as a troubled woman who needed help and turned to murder instead. It’s a tragic story told in a way that avoids the exploitive tropes often seen in these kinds of films. The acting is top notch and absolutely worthy of the accolades it’s been given.

Other reviews for Patty Jenkins’ work at Cinema Crazed:
Emilie’s take on Wonder Woman: https://www.cinema-crazed.com/blog/2017/06/02/wonder-woman-2017/
Felix’s take on Wonder Woman: https://www.cinema-crazed.com/blog/2017/06/09/wonder-woman-2017-2/