Hot on the heels of Cloverfield (2008) and District 9 (2009) came Monsters, a film that tries too hard at the start and has given up way before the end. Monsters follows the aforementioned films in being (comparitively) low budget, featuring unknown actors, having an interesting premise and failing to deliver on early promise. In fairness, the budget shortcomings of Monsters are a little more pronounced than either Cloverfield or District 9, those two wheighing in at around $30,000,000 whilst poor little Monsters swings a bat worth a measly $800,000.
This little run of half intelligent, vaguely realistic, nicely postered science fiction has a lot going for it just by not being Michael Bay or so loud it distorts the screen so it can be forgiven a lot of it’s shortcomings before we begin due to it’s (groan) quirkiness and it’s willingness to try something different in the first place. Cloverfield and District 9 were both films that felt good to watch once but were never going to be long term solutions for the malaise inflicting the genre (EBFS reaches for Serenity more times that it cares to admit for a quick fix). This brings us to Monsters, a film you should try and love.
Written and directed by Gareth Edwards, a former and presumably current visual effects supervisor, he’s English (with some Welsh heritage surely), he’s smart and he can point the camera in the right direction. He’s conjured up a world six years from now where Mexico and America are separated by a giant “infected zone” populated by huge, octopus like (very octopus like) aliens, accidentally released by NASA when a probe crashes in the New Mexico desert. It’s unclear whether the aliens are hostile and seems more likely that they are just trying to survive in a brand new, seemingly hostile enviroment.
Stuck in Mexico are Andrew (an excellently named Scoot McNairy) and Samantha (Whitney Able), after missing the last ferry to America for six months thay are forced to illeglly traverse the infected zone by boat, car and foot. It’s kind of like Planes, Trains and Automobiles except at no point does anyone shout; “Those aren’t pillows!”.
Starting off with a nicely executed, night vision led scene of American soldiers responding to an alien breaking loose of the infected zone to cause havoc in Mexico city. The film then introduces Andrew, he’s a photo journalist, a wholly unlikeable lech and drunk, struggling with morality issues an eight year old could work through. He’s joined by Samantha, a rich kid, presumably holidaying in Mexico because she can. Her father is the boss of whatever media empire Andrew shills his photographs to. Promised a promotion Andrew agrees to escort Samantha back to America. These are not two nice characters, they are not people you can root for. This is only the beginning of the problems. Andrew is completely culpable for the mistake of missing the ferry and given the consequences of a trip through a restricted military zone filled with dangerous creatures Samantha bats a surprisingly small eyelid. The rest of the film is a cod Apocalypse Now/ Stalker parody with none of the insanity of the former nor the superlative tension building of the latter. Their journey is littered with picture postcard panoramas and close calls with sighted or (more usually) unsighted aliens and yet there is never any sense of danger, we’re not going to lose one of these two really and that’s made very clear. The payoff is a strangely touching mating dance glimpsed briefly but by that point the film has become so dull it’s a good bet you won’t notice.
The only thing this film does well is serve to remind you what people will do to get into America. Even faced with two hundred miles of gigantic octopus and US military dodging there is still a queue at the border. How bd can Mexico be?
Too long a ninety four minutes and boasting a chemistry and acting level between the leads of an ITV drama level this film can ony possibly serve as a calling card for Edwards talents, hopefully next time he’ll be given (a bit) more money and (a lot) more help with the script.