I'm only about a half-hour in, but, thus far, Bryan Bertino's "The Monster" has many of the qualities I look for in horror: real character development, strong acting, an emotional connection to one or more characters (hence: emotional stakes for what comes later), and a gradual (but not slow) pace that effectively builds suspense. Zoe Kazan, who made a lasting impression in 2009's "The Exploding Girl," has made a graceful transition from indie ingénue to screenwriter (2012's "Ruby Sparks") and careful selector of projects. Her Kathy, an alcoholic single mom whose irresponsibility puts her daughter in the position of having to parent her, is broken enough to evoke pathos but not so broken as to alienate us completely.
A scene in that first half-hour in which Kathy fights to resist the magnetic pull of alcohol, after we see a message her daughter has scrawled on the kitchen whiteboard ("You can do it, Mom!"), and then succumbs, provides an emotional oomph that will likely make the bumps-in-the-night to come a lot more meaningful than they otherwise would have been. (The scene concludes with Kathy, having been sick, lying on the bathroom floor. Her daughter finds her and, instead of angrily walking away or bursting into tears, sweetly lies down beside her, spooning her.) Once I'm done with this one, I'll try to finish this review.