The plot of “Monstrous” develops incrementally through canned revelations that Laura has tried to suppress. We overhear, through an establishing phone conversation, that she’s avoiding Cody’s father. And we see, through a dream sequence that resembles a scene from “The Creature from the Black Lagoon,” that Laura’s worried about a mysterious brunette (Rachel Edlow).
Both the phone call and the dream intrude on Laura’s world of cozy 1950s décor and dreamy pop songs, like “I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire” and “Mr. Sandman.” She tries to remain in that positive emotional space even when she’s applying herself at a nearby secretarial pool. But Cody’s having nightmares about a lake monster and, despite his mom’s wishes, he doesn’t want to make new friends at school. Laura tries to get some help—with her new home, at least—from the property’s reassuring owner, Mr. Langtree (Don Durrell), but he’s only so useful.
Ricci does a lot of heavy-lifting in this sketchy scenario, scripted by Caroline Chrest, and mostly fleshed out by director of photography Senda Bonnet, production designer Mars Feehery, and their respective teams. Floral wallpaper and a matching yellow refrigerator, filmed in inviting wide angles, help viewer understand the appeal of Laura’s new home. Cody’s relatively claustrophobic visions of a kelpy corpse monster aren’t as inspiring since they’re both too glossy and conceptually thin to effectively place us in the little guy’s shoes.
But that’s unsurprising since most of “Monstrous” either concerns or reflects Laura’s point-of-view. She provides the needle’s eye we see the movie’s world through, which inadvertently makes Ricci’s performance even more remarkable. She brings a vulnerability to her character that’s apparent even when Laura tries to reassure Cody. And when Laura does see something weird in her house, moving just off-camera, Ricci’s tightly-blocked over-the-shoulder stare conveys more tension than any of the movie’s dialogue or creature effects. That said, nobody else in the movie matches Ricci or her energy. Barnard’s performances gets swallowed up by his Romero zombie pale complexion, and the only semi-central character who can keep up with Ricci is Lenora (Colleen Camp), Mr. Langtree’s grouchy wife.