A Horror So Real It May Be Imagined: ‘The Monitor’

It would be nice to think during the many years Steig Larsson worked on his Millennium novels (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest) he had the Swedish actress, Noomi Rapace, in mind to play Lisbeth Salander. The cyber-punk heroine from this wildly popular series has become so iconic and internationally beloved that an actor of lesser talents than Rapace would never stand a chance of emerging from the shadow of its success.

Rapace is a fascinating and naturally gifted actress who seems to grow more compelling with each successive role. She is the rare screen actor able to blend fierce emotional expression and determined intelligence with a kinetic sense of the physical. Thanks to the international success of the Millennium series, movie audiences have learned that there is far more to this actress than just being the girl with the dragon tattoo.

Rapace’s first forays into English-language films have been the big Hollywood productions of Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows with Robert Downey, Jr. and Ridley Scott’s sci-fi blockbuster, Prometheus. For those interested in seeing her get back to her Scandinavian roots (so to speak), they may wish to check out the 2011 Norwegian film, The Monitor.

The Monitor is billed as a psychological thriller and the central premise is immediately intriguing. For their mutual protection, Anna (Noomi Rapace) and her eight-year old son, Anders (Vetle Qvenild Werring) are forcibly relocated to a remote and secret location outside of Oslo. Having suffered severe and near fatal abuse at the hands of her husband, Anna arrives in her new home clearly terrified that safety is impossible.

Anna is a ghosted self whose only animation comes from the potency of her horror, trauma and extreme anxiety. She is quite literally a personification of the walking wounded. The horror she and her son have suffered is evident in every fiber of her physical presence. She walks with frenetic vulnerability; alert but blind to all but her feelings and anticipation of violence. Anna is animated only by her hyper-attentive fear, over protection towards her son and the paranoia of her husband discovering their new home and finishing the abuse to its deadly end.

She’s so intent on keeping her son safe that she insists they sleep in the same room. Caseworkers from Social Services deem this unhealthy for recovery and Anna relents to let the boy sleep in his room next door. To assuage her fear, Anna purchases a baby monitor to place in her son’s room so she may listen for any signs of danger.

Within days the monitor begins to pick up strange sounds and disturbing screams. The screams, however, are not from her son and Anna soon suspects the terrifying noise is from another mother and son suffering abuse in a nearby flat. She begins a search that quickly turns into a desperate maze filled with mounting inconsistences that yield nothing but overwhelming confusion.

Norwegian director Pal Sletaune manages to squander both the film’s intriguing premise and fierce talent of Rapace with a peculiar, almost masterly, sense of skill. Sletaune cannot keep The Monitor’s intricate plotlines separate and the story is quickly muddled with labored intensity. Too many subplots are introduced that lead nowhere, explanation of motive and resolution of conflict are openly teased but diminish quickly. All this leads to a story that meanders in its investigation and leads to a lazy and deeply unsatisfactory conclusion.

The Monitor is filled with potential but lacks the skillful hands to guide it through the complexity of its premise. Anna is a classically unreliable narrator whose only definitive quality is that of extreme paradox. She engenders sympathy, understanding, hope, concern, skepticism, fear and outright terror from the audience. Rapace is quite wonderful in the part and manages to convey the deep conflict within Anna. Rapace actually won the Best Actress award for The Monitor at the 2011 Rome Film Festival. It’s unfortunate that the film cannot support her talented effort.

Little is offered on the DVD release of The Monitor beyond a few deleted scenes. All the same little is lost by the exclusion of supplemental materials. It would be both difficult and a bit later for the filmmakers to make sense of a movie they muddled.

The Monitor may disappoint as a film, but Noomi Rapace will repay your time with an arresting performance.

RATING 4 / 10