CAPSULE: As a sort of a road film, MONSTERS tells the story of two young Americans making their way across a war-ravaged Mexico--where the war is against giant creatures of alien origin. The story is told with a naturalistic style and with the actors improvising with non-actor locals. In the end the film is really about people and not special effects. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
(There is a heavy spoiler at the end will be protected by a rot13 encryption.)
In an old Japanese movie with the giant monster Gamera and other monsters there is a sequence in which a crew building road was asked about their progress and they say that they can finish the road on schedule if the rains do not come early and if the monsters do not come out of the hills and tear up the roads. This is said rather matter-of-factly as if living with the monsters has become a way of life. There is a very similar situation in a new film written and directed by Gareth Edwards. There is a large area of Mexican countryside plagued by giant monsters that tear up cities and villages. But life goes on. What are you going to do?
Six years earlier alien life was discovered in the solar system. A probe was sent into space to take samples and return them to Earth. That probe broke up over Mexico. Soon there were strange tentacle creatures springing up around Northern Mexico causing destruction. The American government built walls to contain the creatures in "infected zones" and built a huge wall between the United States and Mexico to keep the creatures out. Since then the United States military has been running air strikes over the infected zone trying to kill the beasts. The locals just learn to live with the disaster of giant monsters. Like cockroaches, trying to remove them can be worse than just living with them. The monsters are really deadly only when they are attacked. The Americans come in and bomb the invaders and that is when the monsters become really dangerous. Scoot McNairy plays Andrew Kaulder, a photojournalist in Mexico getting pictures of the destruction for a news source. His boss tells him he has to pick up the boss's daughter, guard her, and bring her back to the US. The story becomes a sort of cross between IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT and CLOVERFIELD--as unlikely a pairing as any I have seen in years.
What is interesting about the script is how MacGuffin-like the creatures really are for most of the film. MONSTERS really is a film about how two people's relationship while traveling under adverse conditions. It may that those adverse conditions include a quarantine due to giant creatures like octopuses on spider-like legs, but for most of the film it could be a disease epidemic or a hurricane rather than an alien invasion.
MONSTERS is an extremely low-budget film, but hides that fact well. The IMDB reports that the budget was in the range of $200,000. Besides the two main characters everyone or almost everyone else is a local from the film locations in Guatemala, Belize, Costa Rica, and Mexico. Some of the set design of the scenes of destruction was provided by an actual hurricane. The special effects are created by writer/director Edwards on his computer. Perhaps for that reason, views of the aliens are kept to a minimum, following the lead of CLOVERFIELD. There was not even a detailed script for the shooting. The main actors and the drafted local actors use an improvisational style that give the film a very natural tone.
MONSTERS is not a great film, but it shows how technology is allowing inventive filmmakers to make fairly interesting films on budgets that are tiny by film industry standards. I rate MONSTERS a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
A heavy spoiler follows, decoded in rot13. It can be decoded at http://rot13.com/index.php, and it is important to understanding the end of the film.
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Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1470827/
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/monsters-2010/
Mark R. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2010 Mark R. Leeper