Directed By: Gareth Edwards
Starring: Whitney Able, Scoot McNairy
Something needs to be made clear concerning Monsters immediately; it is not a monster movie. If you walk into this one expecting a barrage of massive man-eating creatures, you’ll be disappointed. There are some monsters, but they’re far from the focus of this unbelievably low budget production. Monsters is more of a love story than anything, a love story with gigantic glowing octopi in the background.
Monsters kicks off six years after a NASA space probe carrying samples of alien life forms is destroyed while attempting to reenter the earth’s atmosphere over Mexico. Strange creatures began to appear and a large section of the country was quarantined and deemed the “Infected Zone.” Scoot McNairy stars as Andrew Kaulder, a photojournalist based in Mexico paid the big bucks for snapping shots of post-creature attack carnage until he’s assigned to escort his boss’ daughter, Samantha (Whitney Able), back home after she’s injured. He isn’t thrilled about the gig, but agrees to take her to the Mexican border of the Infected Zone where she can hop on a ferry and return to the states. But of course, things don’t go as planned and Sam and Kaulder wind up resorting to the more dangerous travel route, straight through the Infected Zone.
The movie may be called Monsters, but don’t expect to see too many. A good chunk of the beginning of the film focuses on Sam and Kaulder’s trek to the ferry port. They ride a train, visit impoverished locals and see some creature attacks on the news, but nothing is particularly compelling. Even when they reach the water and the Jurassic Park-like Infected Zone fence looms in the background, there’s nothing too exciting minus a few fighter jet fly-bys.
It isn’t until the duo is deep into the jungle that we finally find ourselves in the midst of a monster ambush and it’s a fantastic scene. Even though we don’t get any long hard looks at the beast, its terrifying presence is furiously evident as is the fear in the leads. But the most gripping moment in the sequence isn’t even the actual attack, it’s the aftermath. There’s just enough bloodshed to purport the gravity of their situation, but not so much that it feels as though it’s just there solely for the intended effect.
In fact, much of the terror in Monsters comes not from gore, shouting, gunfire and gruesome creatures, but from the elements we don’t see. One particularly disconcerting component is how cavalier everyone is about the circumstances. There are huge beasts armed with deadly tentacles out for blood, but citizens aren’t too concerned. This works quite well in the beginning of the film, making Sam and Kaulder seem as though they’re helpless and alone, however, the attitude that having extra terrestrial neighbors is nothing new ultimately collides with the monster’s brutality. If these creatures pose such a serious threat to mankind, people should be fleeing continents, not just keeping their fingers crossed a wall will keep them out.
The only other element that might not sit right with moviegoers is the absence of monsters. Monsters isn’t really a monster movie, it’s a love story. The situation in Mexico merely serves as a background for the budding road trip romance brewing between Kaulder and Sam. As a romance film, Monsters is quite successful particularly because it doesn’t follow the typical love story formula. There are quite a handful of roadblocks keeping the two from just falling for one another and getting on with it from Kaulder’s initial disapproval of being taken away from his work and paired with Sam to her engagement to the whole monster situation. All of these elements and more combine to create a whirlwind of an environment forcing our leading duo to act impulsively and exactly how’d you expect two people to behave if they were actually thrown into that situation.
The only reason one could have for writing off Monsters completely is if that person is hell bent on seeing an actual monster movie. Between the film’s title and promotion material, it’s nearly impossible to walk in without at least an inkling of hope of seeing some ET action and when writer director Gareth Edwards doesn’t deliver, it will be disappointing. There’s almost no escaping a slight degree of dissatisfaction concerning the lack of beastly action, however, if you’re able to look beyond those preconceived expectations, Monsters still has a lot to offer.
By Perri Nemiroff