I loved Monsters. Bang. You need more of a review? Cool. Here we go then…
There have already been many comparisons to District 9 (which I also loved), and there are bound to be many more as Monsters hopefully grows in profile. Monsters is a very different movie, but as a ground-level, sociopolitical low-budget sci-fi filmed in guerilla style, the similarities are probably there. Where Monsters diverges is on the character level.
Monsters is best described as a travelogue that slowly grows into a love story, one that just happens to have giant alien monsters striding through the background. If it’s not quite a love story exactly, it’s a story about two young-ish people being forced to get to know each other under high-pressure circumstances.
Some years back, mysterious alien creatures landed on earth and began to cause widespread destruction, by nature of their gargantuan size if possibly not their intent. There are walled-off “infected” zones where the monsters primarily reside – coincidentally, those zones line up snugly against the US-Mexico border (hence the sociopolitical factor). That’s the backstory.
Into that environment, a photojournalist, played by Scoot McNairy (yeah, I know) is sent to bring home the daughter of his employer, who has been in Mexico for weeks (she’s played by Whitney Able, from the upcoming independent film The Man That I Was.) In the 1980s they made a whole bunch of movies where a rough-and-tumble guy had to work with a privileged blond lady, but thankfully this movie doesn’t rely on stereotypes for a second – these two actors really beautifully underplay their roles and create a believable, realistic level of banter and grudging appreciation that totally grounds a movie that has some fairly fantastic moments in it otherwise.
Monsters is a character movie, not a monster movie hardly at all. What you see of the aliens is primarily in glimpses, and really almost exclusively in the damage they leave behind: upended cars, demolished city blocks, rotting corpses of shellacked buildings. It’s in these simple but thoroughly-imagined details, and the almost tender way that the two main characters observe them and pass them by, that Monsters transcends genre and becomes something truly special. There’s a strange beauty and a harsh poetry to the casual way that director Gareth Edwards presents these unusual, otherworldly images – a memorable scene where our heroes are taking a rickety boat down a river, when a giant tentacle reaches out of a river to claim a half-submerged fighter jet, is suspenseful and scary and sad and mesmerizing and exciting all at the same time. The movie is stuffed with moments like that one. It’s unlike any other movie you’ll see this year.
P.S. One thing I’ve been wondering about is the title. Monsters. I wonder if originally there were another title. I get that there might be thematic implications, but they’re not entirely on point. Aliens might have been more apt, but I guess it would have been too on-the-nose, and besides, that one is kinda taken. (So is Monsters Vs. Aliens.) Maybe the title is just a road sign, a small bit of encouragement to bring in an audience. Maybe it’s like that REM album “Monster,” with the depressing tiger head on the front. Or maybe I just think too much. Don’t be like me. Don’t think too much – just go see Monsters, now in limited release across the U.S.A.