The giant monsters movie genre, at least in the most nostalgic terms, is nearly extinct. Sure, Peter Jackson’s King Kong was pretty good. And Cloverfield saw a good bit of success financially and critically. But it seems as if the movie-going public’s imagination is uncapturable, by any good measure, by the idea of enormous, loud, dangerous creatures (Rush Limbaugh doesn’t count). But rumors swirling through the festival mills about an indie gem called, unceremoniously, Monsters held great promise for the movie niche. And, it seems, these rumors are well founded. Gareth Edward’s feature film is charmingly ethereal and, at times, staggeringly beautiful.
Much like 2009′s District 9, aliens end up stranded on our planet. But in Monsters, it’s our fault. A sample-collecting something-or-other returns to earth from a mission, but breaks up in the atmosphere over Mexico. After some time has passed, enormous squid-like creatures start to appear and, understandably people get spooked. Especially the USA, prompting them to build an enormous fence along the entire US/Mexican borders. To keep the monsters out. Get it?
So the film’s not-so-subtle political message is, at its base, as annoying as Dora the Explorer? At one point, while several Mexicans are gathered around a camp fire discussing the disrupted climate of the area with two Americans, one of them actually points out that America’s walls are only helping imprison America. Another local mentioned that the monsters present no problem if you don’t cause problems for them. And that, I believe, is what they call liberal media. This may present as more of a problem for some than it is for others. I, personally, would rather hear about hot button immigration issues on NPR, right after their recommendations for which wines I should pay attention to this fall. However, if you’re not particularly sensitive to PSAs, it’ll be easy to look past.
The majority if the film focuses on two Americans. A photojournalist named Andrew (Scoot McNairy), hoping to make a name for himself by photographing one of the monsters before it’s killed by military. And then there’s Andrew’s boss’s daughter Sam (Whitney Able). Andrew’s boss demanded that he bring his daughter back to the US safely. But since the two are passport-less, and mostly without money, they’re forced to try and sneak through the infected zone. And there’s nothing like aliens, and illegal immigration to prompt a love affair between two young white people.
Any urgency sensed in my brief synopsis is misleading. There are tense moments. But Edwards is smart, and he took his time building up to the limited payoffs Monsters actually offers. Instead, Edwards invests huge amounts into the atmosphere of his film. This yields some outstanding results, too. The feel of the film is otherworldly, exquisite, and exciting. Since Edwards created the visual effects as well, his directorial vision matches perfectly what you see on screen. And when he finally gives you a long hard look at the creatures, they’re enchanting. The decision to use non-professional actors, and avoid the over-used ‘found footage’ device so popular lately also prove to be solid choices that help the film rise above its peers.
The final note the film closes on, sadly, left a bad taste in my mouth. The final scene few seconds of the film revert back to overly cheesy sci-fi romance clichés of the past. But after the journey I had been on, I didn’t really care how it ended, I was just happy to be a part of it.
Strikingly beautiful effects and atmosphere mixed with some really great direction make for a very well done film.