STARRING: Whitney Able, Scoot McNairy
2010, 94 Minutes, Directed by:
It’s Apocalypse Now . . . but with giant space
Monsters appears to be
in on this. Early on a U.S. marine references Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979
Vietnam War epic when he hums some bars from Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries,
famously used during the helicopter attack scene in said movie. Like
Apocalypse Now much of Monsters’ running time is taken up by a long
boat trip up a winding river. U.S. army helicopters pass by ominously in many
scenes. “Never get out of the boat,” I wanted to yell at the onscreen characters
at one point.
Plot-wise Monsters is
more like a sequel to Cloverfield, but without
the shaky cam photography. In fact the widescreen cinematography by newcomer
Gareth Edwards is rather excellent. Edwards is a regular Renaissance man. He
also wrote, edited and did the special effects in Monsters, bringing the
movie in at a budget of $15 000, usually the amount of money they spend on
toilet paper during your average Tom Cruise flick.
It is the near future. Six years ago a NASA probe
brought back samples of alien life, but when it crash-landed the probe
“infected” a large swathe of Mexico with seeds that grew into enormous creatures
that look like octopi (that’s plural for octopus) which walk on land. The alien
creatures also glow red in the dark and make whale-like sounds. It is implied,
but never really spelled out, that the creatures aren’t really all that hostile
and that the U.S. army in its zeal to contain the alien “infection” cause more
collateral damage than the aliens themselves.
A cynical photojournalist
(Scoot McNairy) is tasked by his boss to escort his daughter (Whitney Able) from
Mexico to the safety of the U.S. border. The only problem is that they have to
go through the so-called “infected zone” to get there . . .
"To be blunt: nothing much actually happens!"
Monsters is one of those
movies which one hugely admires, but do cannot whole-heartedly recommend to
anyone. The trailers may have led some audiences to expect a thrill-a-minute
horror movie, but the truth is that Monsters is more science fiction than
horror. In the tradition of the best sci-fi, the film is much better at
recreating an onscreen fictional universe than it is at creating a palpable
sense of dread to make it work as a successful creature feature. Patient science
fiction fans and end-of-the-world junkies will appreciate it more than the
The problem lies with the fact
that Monsters shares more with Apocalypse Now than jokey Wagner
It also shares that movie’s
“road movie” structure, and like many movies of the genre one, excuse the pun,
never really knows where exactly it is going. Or to be blunt: nothing much
actually happens. Monsters at times feels like an extended travelogue,
and no matter how interesting the doctored post-apocalyptic Mexican landscape
may be, the movie winds up feeling longer than its short 94 minutes running
time. (The special effects are pretty good – for any budget.) Also at one point
it feels as if the movie should end; except it doesn’t.
Still, there is much to
recommend the movie to audiences who aren’t expecting the next psycho slasher.
It heralds the arrival of a major new talent in director Gareth Edwards as well
as his talented young cast. (Edwards gets our vote for making a movie out of Max
Brooks’ World War Z book.) The
production values are excellent, and the acting pretty good and naturalistic.
The movie also draws some
parallels to the real-life illegal alien issue facing America. At times our
protagonists feel more like a couple of illegal immigrants trying to sneak over
the border into the U.S.A. than the heroes of a typical Hollywood science
fiction blockbuster. It also does a good job at communicating the sheer
alienness of the creatures.
One or two effective moments
aside though, the movie’s biggest problem is that at what should have been
moments of foreboding becomes boredom. The end result is a movie that one wish
one had liked more than one actually did.
Ultimately a strange,
one-of-a—kind movie that will perplex as many as it delights . . .