Remember the days when hookers wore makeup? Back when they were so beautiful, that at any moment Richard Gere could pull up in a limo and wisk them away to a golden palace in the sky to serve as his princess bride. That half-baked illusion sure didn’t last long did it?

Monster stars a nearly unrecognizable Charlize Theron as real life prostitute and serial killer Aileen Wuornos. The film begins with the moment that changed her from dirty, beaten down, homeless hooker two seconds away from suicide, into a mass murderer leaving a trail of dead Johns across the state of Florida: Her first encounter with Selby (Christina Ricci).

They meet in a gay bar. Painfully awkward and tenderly young Selby is there exploring her burgeoning homosexuality when Aileen wanders in from walking the highway to spend her last five bucks guzzling beer. At first, Aileen doesn’t realize she’s even in a gay bar and isn’t interested in women herself anyway. But Selby shows a genuine interest and Aileen is starving for well, anything.

Aileen’s first murder is in its own way justified. Trying to provide for Selby, she starts turning tricks again, only to be raped and nearly killed by one of her Johns. When she shoots him, it is in anger yes, but also in self defense. But that act sends her rolling down a hill, with each of her successive victims proving less deserving of her disturbed justice. Aileen can’t see that. All she sees is love driving her to get the money she needs to keep Selby happy. After all, it’s so easy! The cops don’t have a clue.

It isn’t often you see a serial killer movie that isn’t pushing a murder mystery, or a low budget slasher. Director Patty Jenkins presents Aileen stark and unflinching. She is a monster, but Jenkins is here only to tell us why. Is the movie overly sympathetic towards an admitted serial killer? Maybe. Jenkins, cold and hard as she is towards Aileen seems pretty ready to cast blame on Selby as a master manipulator, pushing Aileen over the precipice. But I think that Monster is just brutally honest. This is what it takes to make a killer; this is a lifetime of horror leading this admittedly despicable woman here. It isn’t sympathy it’s hard truth.

Not long ago Halle Berry won an Oscar for beating on a window and screaming. Nicole Kidman won one for what, putting on a nose slightly larger than her own? Charlize should and MUST win one for owning a character completely different from herself in a way I never would have thought could be possible for anyone. She captures the screen with a rampant, ugly physicality that we’ve never seen hinted at from her before. Theron sacrifices her body, her image, and her soul to give what may be the most stunning transformation ever to take place in any movie. She’s hideous inside and out. Long gone is the luminous blonde starlet we’ve all come to know. She doesn’t just look the part, she is the part.

A brilliant, practically perfect performance by Charlize Theron notwithstanding, it’s hard to recommend Monster for any but the most staunch film fanatic. It’s dreary and dismal, like throwing a big can of ugly on the wall and then sitting back to find out what sticks. It isn’t fun to watch, but it is educational… if you can stomach it. For the strong of will and curious in nature, Monster is worth a hard, discerning look.