STARRING: Whitney Able, Scoot McNairy

2010, 94 Minutes, Directed by:
Gareth Edwards

It’s Apocalypse Now . . . but with giant space alien squids!

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 SAW crowd.

The problem lies with the fact that Monsters shares more with Apocalypse Now than jokey Wagner allusions.

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 . . .



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