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Monsters (2010) ***

November 12, 2010

written by: Gareth Edwards

produced by: Allan Niblo & James Richardson

directed by: Gareth Edwards

rated R (for language)

94 min.

U.S. release date: September 24 (Amazon, VOD, Zune & iTunes) and November 12, 2010

  

For a low-budget thriller, this UK indie has monster aspirations: to bring a micro-intimate, road trip story that just so happens to have giant monsters from outer space here and there, to the big-screen. Thankfully, writer/director Gareth Edwards subscribes to the “less is more” approach and the audience is better for it. Yes, the film delivers on its titular characters but audiences may be let down if they are expecting a full-blown creature feature. Be that as it may, even with the forced love angle of the film’s two human protagonists, this a respectable film with some impressive accomplishments considering its scale.

The film starts out with an introduction that provides both set-up and history to this alternate modern-day reality….Six years ago, NASA discovered the possibility of alien life within our solar system. A probe was sent out to collect samples, but it crashed upon re-entry over Central America. As a result,  eggs of an alien race soon spread and grew across Central America. The northern half of Mexico became a massive quarantine zone deemed the Infected Zone, bordered by an enormous wall and a strong military presence (both U.S. and Mexican) that struggles to contain these gigantic creatures.

 Since this alien intrusion occurred, the world (specifically Mexico) has grown accustomed to fighter jets patrolling the skies, looking for giant tentacles to deal with.  On a job in Central America, photojournalist Andrew (Scoot McNairy) is ordered to retrieve Samantha (Whitney Able), the wounded daughter of his boss, and bring her back to America. Far from thrilled about his gig, Andrew makes his way to the border of the infected zone, with his reluctant “package” in tow. Along the way, the two dawdle and confess, even though Sam is engaged with a wedding likely awaiting her when she returns to the States. When Andrew blows their chance to take a ferry back, they say goodbye to an easy ride and buy a trip through the alien hot zone, sans proper paperwork. What they encounter along the way leaves them on edge, as they cross into  precarious and perilous terrain.

  
 

 

Unfortunately his screenplay focuses entirely too much time on two boring leads. While it becomes increasingly difficulty to bear with the sub par performances of McNairy and Able. Still, their zero chemistry makes the googly eyes we’re subjected to nothing short of nauseating to watch. It’s clear what Edwards was attempting in order to differentiate from typical genre conventions, but the character arcs are tedious, lacking any real connection for the viewer. It would’ve been much more interesting and natural if these two just got on their nerves the whole time, turning each other off more and more and left it at that. I know desperate times usually draw people closer together but this occurs all too often in cinema. At least the atmosphere they are in is captivating enough to keep us in the film.

It’s easy to appreciate the modest production Edwards works with, but I get the feeling many will not get what they’re expecting. This is a movie that is more about a journey through a danger zone than it is about explosions or conflicts. That’s fine with me, I just wish the two characters were written better, or recast. I really didn’t care that it wasn’t a retread of “Cloverfield” (I actually feared it would be) and I didn’t mind the allegorical look at the today’s current immigration issues.  Yet there’s no denying though that the lack of on-screen ferocity is a bit of a bummer.  

 

When one thinks monsters one automatically thinks of claws and teeth, that’s not the case here. In fact, you can even propose the question of which race is the monster. I’m not spoiling anything when I describe the aliens as giant-size versions of the Yip-Yip aliens from “Sesame Street”. That being said, I thought the alien designs and depiction was quite original and convincing given what Edwards had to work with.

Edwards adeptly handles his Sony PMW-EX3 HD Video camera, working with a minimal crew and just two professionals actors. All shot on location in Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Costa Rica and Texas in just over three weeks. That’s some impressive guerilla filmmaking. With that in mind, the humans involved did evoke a convincing degree of believability. Who knows what green screen these actors had to work with but the situations and environment felt real. And regardless of what viewers will think of the monsters, they are expertly executed, solidifying the story’s mystery and suspense.

How “Monsters” does with audiences is anyone’s guess, but I would recommend it as an example of a film that successfully the expectations of  a reported $150,000 budget. It’s definitely for those sci-fans that crave something different. The acting may not be all that, but I would easily revisit this meticulously crafted film just to appreciate seeing how much Edwards does with what little he has.

 

This isn’t your typical giant monster movie. The only thing typical about it is that it has yet another unique perspective on the genre. The last several years have given us some amazing new takes on both monsters and aliens (and I’m not taking about Dreamwork’s animated “Monsters vs. Aliens”) with Bong Joon-ho’s “The Host” and Neil Blomkamp’s “District 9”, set in a realistic, somewhat familiar environment. Coming from a visual effects background, Edwards shows admirable talent.

 

3 Comments leave one →
  1. November 14, 2010 7:39 pm

    Funny a UK independent film you say? It doesn’t even get released here in England until the 3rd of December… Sometimes I really miss living in North America!

  2. windi permalink
    November 18, 2010 7:13 am

    Matt walked in as I was reading this review, and thought it looked pretty interesting. I’m sure we will get around to watching it sooner or later. Will let you know what we think! 🙂

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