Directed by Gareth Edwards
"It's different looking at America from the outside in"
It wasn't Gareth Edwards intention to make a film allegory about the US immigration policy with Mexico. But that's what comes out of Monsters, a sci fi Lost in Translation meets District 9 sorta film.
It's also an excellent display of indie and guerrilla style filmmaking by Edwards, his crew and actors Scoot McNairy and the beautiful Whitney Able. It's easy to Blomkamp this flick with comparisons to District 9. It's got a restricted zone, a military policy towards the alien "invaders" and a look into the world of the quarantine zone. But the film does two things District 9 doesn't. It subtly establishes a pseudo budding relationship between our intrepid photographer and a daughter of a media mogul and it blends in "monsters" into commonplace lore. And it does both effectively.
Sure seeing the monsters in small increments makes it a little irritating, the acting is completely improvised which leads to odd exchanges and the suspense is a bit cliched but it clearly has the heart of a indie film that does the more than most blockbuster Hollywood flicks do with 1000x more budget.
At the end, you feel like you walked away from a seeing an allegory thinly disguised as a sci-fi drama and the aliens seem to have more in common with us than you think.
Six years ago NASA discovered the possibility of alien life within our solar system. A probe was launched to collect samples, but crashed upon re-entry over Central America. Soon after, new life form began to appear and half of Mexico was quarantined as an INFECTED ZONE. Today, the American and Mexican military still struggle to contain "the creatures"...... Our story begins when a US journalist agrees to escort a shaken tourist through the infected zone in Mexico to the safety of the US border.
What you notice right off the bat is how seemlessly Edwards integrates the sci fi in Monsters. He is of course an FX wizard first before a full fledge director. We see night vision battles, smoldering ruins, fighter planes in the sky and newscast shots of the skyscraper tall tentacled aliens battling the Mexican and US military. All the signs of a "restricted zone" or "gas mask prices" have been digitally created within shots filmed in real life locations. It's a sight to behold and it's all done quite creatively.
You clearly get transported into a North America that looks gritty real, in a mid post apocalyptic world. Kaulder, a photographer on the hunt for his big payday ends up in Mexico where he's told by his boss he has to escort Sam, the daughter of the company's CEO back to America. Their relationship grows throughout the film.
Soon there trekking to the coast in a bid to get on a ferry to America. The film spends alot of time having Kaulder and Sam talk about their lives. Both have different motivations to go home, Kaulder for his son and Sam to her fiance. But these motivations are deceptive in the big picture of just getting back the the good ole USA alive.
We get a montage of fun and later the easy route leads to a harder one as the duo have to trek back to America by land instead. It's filled with a boat ride with some solid extraterrestrial WTF scenes of suspense. A fighter jet disappears via mysterious tentacles and a group of guide soldiers gets slaughtered.
As we approach the end, Sam and Kaulder are clearly attracted to each other in that "we survived multiple alien attacks" romanticism that comes from well you know surviving such an ordeal. The ending is a little wild and bit of a "Huh?" but it is what is.
Scoot McNairy and the hot Whitney Able both give great performances in a movie that they were only given an outline of what they needed to do. If all the dialogue was improvised, it's a credit to them with coming up with conversation that seems plausible and funny. Able is a presence on screen, a mesmerizing beauty though cliched damsel in distress. McNairy plays tough, lovable fun guy. An alpha male with a heart.
But the monsters should be as important as these characters and through glimpses via news footage, some shots in some climactic scenes and one at the end, they are only their as background. As the titular name of the film, they should have had some focus, possibly their plight of being targeted by both governments (like they did in District 9). This is where I had a few gripes. The aliens seem to have no agenda, no motivation and no adequate screen time which leads to a lacking trifecta.
If your going to make a alien flick, you need to get some meat on the bones of the aliens. They shouldn't be treated like a establishing shot of a sunset. It's only at the end do we see the aliens have relationships as well, a budding family per say and there main motivation it seems is the resources America has. Somehow, it's an appropriate parallel to real life events.
Monsters is made on the attention spans of the YouTube crowd. Doing more with less is a testament to everybody involved in the movie. Edwards does a fantastic job of getting the most out of his special effects laden flick but missed a chance to shed some light into an important subject in current events. The plight of the monsters is as important as the plight of our leads.
America's population will constantly be a changing demographic and so will our alien flicks change as well. Monsters is a step into a new frontier of indie sci-fi, one where we have to adapt our expectations on what it can be, not what it should be.
A few scattered bodies, nothing a tween couldn't handle.
The tentacle tango between the aliens at the end
The Jaded Viewer's Final Prognosis
Monsters is out on DVD now via Magnet Releasing. If you're in the mood for a more arthouse Cloverfield flick with a touch of Lost in Translation and some District 9 danger, Monsters is the clear cut choice for you.
Check out the trailer below.