(2010, Gareth Edwards)
“Doesn’t that kind of bother you that you need something bad to happen to profit from it?”
Monsters is quite possibly one of the worst marketed movies of recent years. Go ahead, watch that trailer up there. I can wait.
Now, from that, you feel you’re about to watch a big, epic monster movie where invading aliens attack major cities in Mexico and threaten to spread to the US, as the military fight off the creatures in a big gung-ho Independence Day blockbuster.
Well, you’d be wrong, and indeed, the distributors of this movie need to be punished for this. This is actually the independently-made directorial debut of Gareth Edwards, and is actually a subtle little movie that asks political questions without getting preachy, provides an alien invasion movie that actually feels plausible, and evokes a human drama that no other movie of this kind can generally provide.
The opening title card sets the scene. The movie is set in a world 6 years after the crash-landing of a NASA space probe containing alien life forms. Half of Mexico is now classed as “The Infected Zone” as horrific alien monsters roam the country threatening to attack. A cynical journalist, Andrew (Scoot McNairy) is sent in to Mexico to find his employer’s daughter, Sam (Whitney Able). His job is to bring her back to the US safely, dodging the strict border controls (an obvious allegory for real-life Mexico/US immigration issues) and, of course, the titular monsters.
As I said, do not go into this movie expecting an exciting big-budget monster movie with special effects out the ears. Go watch a Michael Bay movie if you want something with explosions and epic battles for supremacy. This movie is actually a subtle romantic drama with a sci-fi backdrop. The focus is not on the monsters of the title, but on our two protagonists as they try and get home.
It’s the kind of movie that stays with you long after you’ve watched it. Many questions are raised by the movie – is US immigration policy fair? Are these alien creatures as destructive as we make them out to be? Who are the real monsters? – but none of these questions are shoved in our faces. Nothing is preached. Everything is there as an omnipresent undertone, and it’s up to the viewer to make up their own minds.
Some examples, then. Andrew discusses with Sam how much money her father would pay for photos of dead children vs. photos of living, happy children. When Sam and Andrew are sitting round a campfire with Mexican guerrillas, we find out that the aliens live fairly peaceful lives in the Infected Zone, but are driven mad by the American military planes. And the connections between the ending scenes and the opening scenes are initially confusing, due to seemingly conflicting views of the creatures’ natures, but can be deciphered by piecing together the clues hidden elsewhere in the movie. Everything is tightly plotted, and doesn’t treat the viewer like an idiot.
The cinematography is also genuinely beautiful. The camera takes on the role of observer, directing us to small details of scenes and showing us the confused world our characters inhabit. This is quite possibly the only movie where the real life sense of foreignness that comes with travelling to other countries came through in the film. When crossing the Mexican/US border in the later stages of the film, the contrast was noticeable straight away. The tone of the movie remained the same, but everything else seemed to change. The whole movie feels very much like a documentary, and this is quite possibly what makes the movie so believable and easy to connect with.
I really have no criticisms of Monsters. It’s an example of the kind of brilliant stuff that’s been happening in the independent film industry for a while that just puts Hollywood’s increasingly brainless output to shame. I am genuinely looking forward to future projects from Gareth Edwards in future based on this success.
Starring Scoot McNairy & Whitney Able
Written by Gareth Edwards
Produced by Allan Niblo & James Richardson
Music by Jon Hopkins
Cinematography by Gareth Edwards
Edited by Colin Goudie
Favourite Scene: When Sam and Andrew trek through the forests with a band of Mexican guerrillas. The human interaction is genuinely warm, and there are tons of clues to the creatures’ benign natures.
Scene That Bugged Me: You know, I’m pretty sure there are no Aztec temples on the Texan border…
Watch it if: You want an interesting humanistic take on the alien invasion movie
Avoid it if: You think this is the new Independence Day
Originally posted on Saturday 7 April 2012