“Monster” is not exactly a horror movie, but a character piece
on Aileen Wuornos, the most notorious female serial killer in U.S.
history. The real Wuornos was a tragic and horrific figure, and was
executed in Florida 3 years ago. She was a prostitute who killed 7 men,
baffling police and later claiming that all of the men had attempted to
rape her. Her life was captured in the compelling 1992 documentary
“Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer.” “Monster takes up
her story, centering on her sexual/personal relationship with
18-year-old Selby (Christina Ricci). Director Patty Jenkins’ film is
sort of “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer” for the Lifetime network.
That remark is not intended as snide or derogatory to the fine
film. It is a softer look at serial killing than “Henry.” “Monster” is
about a deeply disturbed individual that, through circumstance and
psychosis kills men, while “Henry” never questioned what made Henry
tick, just how he violently mirrored society. “Monster” is probably a
little too sympathetic to Wuornos, who really did kill in cold blood. An
attempt, late in the film, to show just how far she’ll go to cover her
tracks feels more like a reminder of Wuornos’ brutality than an organic
symbiosis of woman and monster. It’s as if Jenkins just wanted to avoid
criticism of her serial-killer sympathy, so she added a few foul scenes
to make up for it.
While the film may only be good (as opposed to the “Excellent”
moniker branded by most major reviewers), the performance of former
eye-candy Charlize Theron as Wuornos is astounding. Far more than a
pretty actress “playing ugly,” Theron embodies Wuornos as a swaggering
braggart, a prostitute who has been banged around and walked on all her
life (“I’ve been hookin’ since I was 13,” she tells Selby, full of
pride). The transformation is more than weight gain and false teeth, as
she is quite sympathetic and whether taking a shot of whisky or blowing
a fifth hole into a john who wanted her to call him “daddy,” the “girl
from ‘The Italian Job’” is nowhere on screen. Theron will be nominated
for an Oscar for her performance, and the only reason I hesitate
elevating her character to horror icon status is that Wuornos was real,
and we already get enough flack for glorifying violence.
“Monster” is important but not particularly fun.
Thought-provoking, but you’ll probably need a shower afterward. Jenkins’
does some masterful work emotionally, sometimes asking us to sympathize
with Wuornos as crazy, or as a victim. Other times, however, she forces
us to look at the real victims, the men who were innocently killed. She
tries to humanize one or two, but as an audience member it’s hard to
forget that these men picked up a woman off the roadside in hopes of
spending $30 to sleep with an unwashed stranger. These victims aren’t
nubile teenagers intent to fornicate and drink while they’re supposed to
be watching the campers, but they’re not exactly clergymen. The
characters in the film suggest that circumstance is the only thing
dividing Wuornos from a soccer mom, but the film itself asks the
audience to go deeper. Jenkins and Theron fill Wuornos’ mouth with
trite dialogue that she probably heard on TV, as she waxes about love
and hope. Yet she never tries to pull herself out of the hell she was
thrust into at birth.
If this all sounds pretty heady for a fright flick, it is.
“Monster” contains stunning performance and is a fine film that
should be seen when you have some time to think about its craft and
questions, but not mindless entertainment for the midnight movie crowd.
Author’s Note: Impress your date by pointing out genre fave Kane
Hodder as a burly biker near the film’s end.