There are many ways to approach an alien invasion movie, and Monsters chooses to explore the aftermath and occupation rather than the direct arrival. This is an effective method, perhaps a little too similar in premise to 2009’s District 9, but an enticing one nonetheless. The pitfalls arise in a “less is more” method that finds the creatures less of a threat and more of an inconvenience. Their appearance is also rather uninspired, and a rather lengthy reveal near the conclusion removes the mystery that earlier seemed highly coveted. The aliens are shown to be mere animals, rather than a calculating enemy or congregation of menacing intruders. This allows the gradual love story to take precedence but doesn’t make much of a monster movie. Maybe that’s the point.
Six years ago, enormous cephalopodic aliens arose in Central America from a crashed NASA probe, resulting in a vast “infected zone” cutting through the Mexican – American border. The United States constructed a massive wall to essentially shut themselves off from the aliens’ advance, leaving the borderlands outside a dangerous and nearly uninhabitable place. Now, photographer Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy) is given the task of escorting his boss’s daughter Samantha (Whitney Able) to safety from an infected area in Mexico. Reluctantly he agrees, hoping that the journey may afford him the opportunity to photograph the tragedy – and perhaps even the creatures themselves – for his publication. Their expedition goes from bad to worse when they’re faced with drastically inflated prices for ferry travel and Andrew is robbed of their money and passports. Forced to travel by road, the duo must brave miles of treacherous landscape through infected territories with the ominous threat of an alien attack looming on the horizon.
With a title like “Monsters,” and the understanding that there are actual aliens running amok, there’s a chance we’ll see the humans become the real monsters, misunderstanding a foreign species. Perhaps some will even find the creatures fascinating instead of fearful. Unfortunately, the social commentary takes a different direction, becoming a parable for the illegal immigration situation from Mexico to the United States. Never does the film even attempt to say that either side is doing something wrong, or that ethical or financial issues are a factor. Instead it’s a stale love story between two incredibly unconvincing characters; hoping to capitalize on the success of District 9, it offers up a nearly identical premise but removes all of the elements that made the aforementioned film entertaining.
As Monsters tries desperately to represent something other than a TV movie science-fiction film, with its artsy cinematography and framing, it fails to establish much of a setup. We discover almost nothing about the lead characters, especially Samantha; it’s almost as if the filmmakers assume audiences will enter the theater after having seen District 9 and will be willing to believe in a world infested with towering octopus aliens. They also pray that simply having monsters in a movie will attract viewers – even though the action is nearly nonexistent and the cameras shy away from showing the creatures, more from a feeling of lacking budget than purposefully ramping up suspense. The events that lead to the two leads crossing the infected zone are even goofier. A drunken night finds Andrew being conveniently robbed of money and passport by a prostitute – during the two minutes it takes him to chase after Sam.
The imagery is appropriate, but there is no substance to support it. Even the alien designs are boring – you’d think the artists would have altered the look of the octopus/squid giants instead of simply making them enormous. “Why do they have guns?” worriedly inquires Andrew. “What is that?” he later asks when grotesque noises are heard in the distance. Does he not live in the same world all the other characters live in? Since when has a photographer of dead alien bodies not known that living aliens thrive in the “Infected Zone”? Can Andrew really be that stupid? And is someone like Andrew really enough for Sam to fall head-over-heels in love with after a few days trek through supposedly dangerous terrain? Hopefully next time writer/director Gareth Edwards will create original, interesting, and believable material.
– The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)