Published Nov 11, 2010Reportedly shot for just $15,000, using only consumer equipment, Gareth Edwards' Monsters has the look of a big-budget Hollywood film that's trying to appeal to the low-budget indie crowd (Cloverfield, anyone?). From computer-generated creature effects to boldly cinematic videography, you'd never guess just how little money was spent. While the production value is solid, Monsters does suffer from several script problems that threaten to, but ultimately don't, derail the film.
Monsters opens with an expository title sequence explaining that soon after a N.A.S.A. probe crash-landed in Central America, "creatures" began to appear — giant, squid-like monsters straight out of a '50s B-movie. The central story surrounds an American photographer named Kaulder (played by Scoot McNairy) ushering his boss's daughter Samantha (Whitney Able) back to the U.S. before the aliens' migratory pattern brings them straight through Mexico.
Through a series of misadventures (or, more specifically, tequila and loose women), Kaulder loses their passports and Samantha's ticket for the last ferry out. This is the first point where the script starts to falter. If we're to buy into the gravity of the situation, don't have the supposedly intelligent characters go drinking the night before the last ferry out of imminent slaughterville leaves, and moreover, don't leave strange, half-naked women alone with your passports the day before killer aliens arrive. All these mistakes mean the only way back to the U.S. is through the Infected Zone (a nod to Tarkovsky's Stalker, or one of its countless imitators), which is essentially an alien breeding ground.
Along the way, Kaulder and Samantha fall for each other, either in genuine, Titanic-esque love story fashion or because they're two attractive people in the midst of an alien apocalypse; it depends on how you look at it. The actors don't have enough chemistry to pull off this part of the story, but fortunately, Edwards is extremely skilled at ratcheting up the suspense. By showing mostly the aftermath of the alien carnage, Edwards creates an eerie sense of anticipation and a tension that's rarely alleviated.
People will compare Monsters to last year's District 9, but fans of that film will be surprised by this one. While District 9 was better at relaying its social commentary, Monsters never devolves into a standard action movie. If anything, it gets tenderer as it progresses. (Vanguard)