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Sundance London 2024 – Your Monster ★★★



Released: TBC (Sundance London 2024)

Director: Caroline Lindy

Starring: Melissa Barrera, Tommy Dewey, Edmund Donovan, Meghann Fahy, Kayla Foster

Review By: Blake Simons

Laura (Melissa Barrera) is sitting around the house in her pyjamas eating cereal. Her boyfriend has just broken up with her, and she’s staying in. But this isn’t the only creature comfort in the house…

The idea of young woman x overly hirsute older man is tried and tested, Hal Hartley’s No Such Thing explored similar ideas in 2001. What differentiates Caroline Lindy’s feature debut Your Monster is the literalness with which her romantic counterpart is her monster. He has been with her all her life, under her bed, lurking in the closet, fulfilling his monstrous role, and the two have grown up in tandem. But the beast has become none too happy about their living arrangement and makes himself known in the hope that Laura will leave.

Depressed and initially frightened as she is, Laura refuses to budge, and instead they become strange roommates, the monster (Tommy Dewey) eyeing her takeaways only to eat everything including the box, smashing crockery when he gets angry or frustrated.

The violent tendencies of the men in the film need to be noted, because the behavioural failings of toxic men is a theme that Your Monster pushes increasingly to the fore. Laura’s ex, Jacob (Edmund Donovan), becomes the film’s antagonist as our heroine fights to reclaim a musical theatre role that he wrote for her then denied as soon as they broke up.

And yet the monster’s similar tendencies go for the most part unexamined. He is the antidote, the reprieve, the good one, in contrast to Laura’s narcissistic theatre director ex. It’s a carryover from the romantic comedies that Your Monster riffs on that here feels dated and underdeveloped. Lindy is a female filmmaker who goes in delightfully guns blazing on topics of gaslighting and emotional entrapment, which makes it all the stranger that when it comes to the beast they go unacknowledged, as if the tropes associated with his namesake not only have to stick but are taken as given with a shrug. Your Monster is perhaps this year’s Cat Person – muddled, sometimes misguided, with a warped charm and nuance for those willing to be whiplashed by its swings.

The romance between the two is a tad uneven and undercooked also. Only one scene in that regard really shines, and it feels like the seeds of something that the performers can muster but the screenplay perhaps can’t. Your Monster is expanded from Lindy’s 2019 short film of the same name, and those slight origins are sadly all too evident in the feature rendition, the theatre revenge plot expanding as the romance disjointedly diminishes. If Lindy’s film itself is a monster, it’s Frankenstein’s.

Melissa Barrera brings a charm and presence to her role that’s pitched halfway between Aubrey Plaza and Winona Ryder. Much like the show within the film, the piece would fall apart without her. She has a commanding and sharp-witted bite that’s utilised to fantastic, gripping effect as Laura hits back against everyone who thinks they can push her around. And, as we discover in the redeeming final act – the opening night of the musical theatre show in question – she can really sing, and some fantastic original songs are waiting in the wings.

Missteps aside, Your Monster is a throwback to the classic kind of romantic comedy you might not have realised you missed so dearly, this time laced with an uproarious up-yours to male artistic ego. And that’s worth making a song and dance about.

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