‘Monsters’ Consumes Genre Convention and Scares Up an Arthouse Film

Monsters = 4 out of 5
Andrew:  All I want is to go back to America.
Ferry Ticket Man:  ...Very dangerous.  You have the money, you take the risk.
 Many will definitely be mislead by the title, but Monsters is a low budget sci-fi drama about two characters trying to get back home.  While the film is certainly set in a world where aliens exist, with many scenes that show the destruction and changes in the world that have resulted from them, the film is in fact handled in a much more minimalist fashion.  Structured as a road movie, the film is more about developing the relationship between two characters on a journey, with subtle commentary regarding immigration and government protocol, among other themes.  This is an independent film that brushes against some genre elements, but is more about observing this world that we see in the background.  As a result, there are some moments of suspense, but it is more of a slow boil as we follow two characters on a trek.

The story takes place a few years in the future.  Due to a crashed space probe that returned with alien DNA on board, otherworldly life has begun to grow and spread mainly around Mexico.  Because of these circumstances, a giant wall has been built on the American border and the U.S. and Mexican militaries have been battling in an attempt to contain the creatures.  Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able star as Andrew and Samantha.  Andrew is an American photojournalist on assignment down in Mexico to bring his wealthy employer’s daughter, Samantha, back to America.  Due to certain events, their plan to make it safely home via ferry ends up not working out, leaving the duo’s only option to travel through Mexico, namely – “The Infected Zone.”

There are many films that I can reference or compare this film to; my favorite being – It Happened One Night with Aliens, which I must credit to Jeff Goldsmith of “Creative Screenwriting Magazine.”  The film I can best associate Monsters to is Children of Men.  By this I mean in the ways that Monsters pushes much of the sci-fi elements into the background, much like that film.  There is very little exposition to set up the world these characters live in, and the discoveries you learn occur mostly through visual cues.  With the budget being very low, this film does not contain any virtuoso single-shot sequences like ‘Children’, but the few times where the titular monsters take center stage, the film handles these moments well with either suspense or intrigue.  However, the rest of the film is devoted to establishing the characters, developing their relationship, as well as exploring the various themes and motifs of the film.

Made for under $500,000, the film is quite clever in the way it unfolds.  It was shot in various real locations in Central America, making good use of random people for the few other roles in the film.  The film also incorporates some made up signs and warning posts, along with some CG elements on top of real life environments.  All of this helps to create a believable world for our characters to be wandering through.  Director Gareth Edwards, who also wrote the film, worked as the special effects artist, and served as the cinematographer, certainly had a vision in mind for this film, and with the amount of footage I am sure they had to edit together, I was impressed with how well handled, yet simple this story was.

Some other merits of this film I must make note of:  It is quite well shot.  The real locations serve as a fine backdrop for many scenes.  I also thought the lead actors, McNairy and Able, were quite good.  Working off a mostly improvised script, one of the most important elements about this film is their relationship, and I thought they pulled it off well.

Now, with all this being said, I can also see this as not being a film for everyone.  As I have already noted at the beginning, the title will definitely be misleading for some.  The film is not exactly slow paced, but it is not about having characters escape one crazy situation to another `a la Cloverfield, instead, it basically has our two leads on their own personal journey, with some close encounters along the way.  The film may be titled Monsters, but I feel if one looks past its literal usage, one can glean a lot from what this film tries to do.  It is a layered tale, wrapped up in a genre film setting, only to end in a way completely fitting for an independent film.

I am a fan of this film.  It does a lot with a little, and does it quite well.  While I enjoy a traditional alien invasion type flick, it is always encouraging to see something that plays around with those traditional ideas.  District 9 did that, and while this film is not as unique and entertaining as that film, Monsters is still a very solid film that is well made, well acted, and poignant in some ways.
Sam:  Hey, come look at this.
Andrew:  What did you find Cortez?


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