In her recent Oscar-winning turn, Charlize Theron plays Aileen Wuornos, the prostitute who killed six men between 1989 and 1990. The publicity blurb refers to her as a ‘lesbian’ killer, but according to the film Aileen preferred men until she met Selby Wall (played by Christina Ricci). Whatever the truth is, ‘lesbian serial killer’ probably sounds more exotic and may have helped to put the Oscar spotlight on Charlize Theron.
Normally the serial killer story falls into two categories – the killer that you can watch with some detachment in awe of their destructive abilities, or the killer who could be your next door neighbour. Monster falls into neither of these categories, as both the lead characters seem unreal and one dimesional. Their hairdos are weird enough for a start.
Although Monster has had very good press, it suffers from a multitude of problems. Plot development is scanty, the script is cold and uninvolved, and the costume design (if you can call it that) was downright odd. Crucially, I didn’t believe for one second that Aileen and Selby were in love. They meet in a bar and Aileen rebukes Selby’s invitation to drink together. Then before you know it they’ve patched things up, Aileen has firmly told Selby that she prefers men and they end up drinking the night away together. Next they’re in bed at Selby’s place.
Selby seemed to want or need to be taken care of by someone, and chose a woman as unsuitable as Aileen, but the film never really exlains the underlying causes. Even though some members of the audience might find the Aileen character sexy (!) it’s difficult to believe that Selby does.
There are no horny love scenes to convince that Selby and Aileen are wildly passionate about each other, and no romantic love scenes to show that they have swept each other off their feet. The few scenes that were meant to depict such intimacy are inadequate, and if Theron and Ricci enjoyed working together, the evidence seems to have been lost on the cutting room floor. Most importantly, the suspense about which ‘John’ Aileen is going to dispatch next is entirely lost, since she kills off practically every one (with one unsurprising exception).
Monster seems like an overblown student graduation film. A lot of money and care was lavished on making the killing scenes look right, but the build-up to these killings isn’t believable either. Theron sits in the car looking angry or annoyed, but she’s been a prostitute since she was 13, so why is she suddenly so angry that she wants to kill these men? Though she kills some who are mean, vindictive or annoying, there are some quite harmless men among her victims. As an audience, we need to know why she had killed them. Neither Theron’s performance, nor the script give us any clues.
To mke matters worse, Charlize Theron’s performance as the ‘lesbian’ killer is often bizarre and sometimes just plain awful. The director probably carries part of the blame here, but Theron looks like an automaton. Her walk is mechanical, she developed a weird hair flicking movement that became distracting and her teeth look very strange indeed. I noticed that someone got a credit for ‘dental prosthetics’ – I would have preferred it if more time had been spent on character development than exterior signs. I can only surmise that Hollywood is so used to seeing female actors dolled up, that when they see someone made ugly they mistake this for good acting. Monster leaves you with some pretty gruesome images, but very little else.