Lionsgate // 2011 // 96 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // July 26th, 2012
How far would you go to protect the ones you love?
With her featured turn in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows and more recent starring role in Prometheus, Noomi Rapace has become one of the top international actresses in Hollywood, but those are ensemble pieces. The Monitor, from Norway, is more of a showcase of her talents, and she shines in a film that, otherwise, likely wouldn't have succeeded.
Anna (Rapace) has recently escaped her abusive husband with her young son, Anders (Vetle Qvenild Werring, Cold Prey 2), to a safe house provided by Child Services. Despite the protection, Anna is still afraid, so she buys a set of baby monitors to keep tabs on Anders while he sleeps. That night, she hears horrible screams coming from the speaker, but Anders is sleeping soundly. The violence she hears is coming from somewhere else in the building, but as she investigates, she finds not only a situation scarily similar to her own, but an indication that some or all of this might be in her head.
Anna is an unreliable narrator and, like most films that have such a character (like Fight Club -- cue the hate mail), it doesn't work on closer inspection. In a written piece, it can easily work because readers can enter the mind of the character and see through their eyes. In a film, however, we're outside of the character, voyeuristically watching the plot move forward, so if the main character is seeing things, as seems likely in The Monitor, how do viewers explain the things they've seen with their own eyes? It's possible to do it reasonably well, I suppose, but this one trips over its own feet with its gimmick.
Until the big reveal derails it, The Monitor is an interesting and engaging thriller with fine performances all around. Constructing a thriller out of the necessity of protecting one's child is perfectly natural and organic way to go, and the baby monitor protection angle is a pretty clever device. Noomi Rapace plays Anna with the high intensity of an ostensibly powerless woman trying desperately to regain some control of her life, even while at the mercy of institutional forces and her own fears. When she hears the strange voices coming through the speaker, her fear becomes even greater, but instead of cowering, she starts investigating. Nobody believes her, of course, but that's part of the point.
In this way, Rapace plays the part a lot like her Lisbeth Salander from The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, though mousier and certainly not indestructible. Her performance is very strong and she's by far the most compelling part of the film. All of the performances are good, even from the kid, but some of the threads are left hanging. The guy who sells her the monitors (Kristoffer Joner, Next Door), who she starts a little romance with, seems to have a sinister, voyeuristic side, but that idea is abandoned as the truth becomes clear, as are a number of other bits that seem really important, but are left without resolution.
The problems with the writing are made up for somewhat by the performances and by Pål Sletaune (You Really Got Me), who draws quite a bit of tension out of the story. It looks good and has a nice, even pace. He stays focused on the story at hand and, without the dropped threads and unfortunate ending, I could have supported it a whole lot more than I do. As it stands, it left me with a bunch of questions and a bad taste in my mouth that doesn't quite ruin the picture, but keeps it from being a real success.
The DVD for The Monitor comes from Lionsgate in a package that is acceptable, but far from spectacular. The image looks very nice, with a crisp 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer that shows off the streets and forests of Norway nicely. There's good clarity with deep black levels and nice whites and, overall, it looks quite good. The surround sound is equally strong. There is good separation among the channels and a fair amount of low-end action. The dialog is always clear, the music is strong, and the effects are present throughout the spectrum. The only extra is about five minutes of deleted footage, which add next to nothing to the film.
In spite of an ending that betrays the film, The Monitor is an interesting and successful production. The performances are great and the story is very strong up to the final few minutes; it warrants a mild recommendation.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Norwegian)
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes