The Film: Monsters (2010)
The Principles: Gareth Edwards (Writer/Director). Scoot McNairy, Whitney Able
The Premise: Six years after a shuttle carrying extra-terrestrial life crashed upon re-entry, a section of Mexico has been overtaken by alien creatures. A jaded photojournalist (McNairy), on location to document the creatures and the living conditions, ends up having to escort his boss’ daughter (Able) back to the safety of the US Border.
Is It Good: Yeah, pretty good indeed. You’re gonna hear some people proclaim that it’s great and you’re gonna hear some people proclaim that it’s awful, but neither one of those verdicts feel quite right. It’s a solid little character piece that embraces its low budget by maintaining a low profile and exercising a fair amount of nuance, subtlety and restraint.
That, of course, can (and does) lead to a bit of meandering as our leads make their way through Mexico.
It‘s not an unwatchable bit of meandering, though. McNairy and Able make for a pair of really convincing leads, both of them able to work little ticks and quirks into their characters that make them well-rounded and real. And for an alien invasion (infestation?) movie that isn’t able to fall back on the aliens themselves (or the naturally occurring violence and grue) the leads are going to have even more weight to carry as the audience is more apt to lose their patience with the slow burn; because essentially, it’s a small movie about two people overcoming their respective pasts and finding a future in each other.
And, ya know, there are a few tentacle-beasts roaming around.
Is It Worth A Look: It is! Again, our leads do some great work here and what little bit of the monsters you see is definitely effective. But, all of that aside, what’s probably the biggest draw here is Edwards. It’s not his first directorial credit, having a short and a few TV Documentaries under his belt, but it is his debut feature. And he pretty much kills it. He has a great eye for space and geography and does a great job of making up for lack of monsters with tension and atmosphere.
Now, on a thematic level, I was actually pretty surprised by the lack of any sort of socio-political commentary that you‘d normally see in a movie like this. That‘s not to say that it doesn‘t exist, but it was fitted in towards the end and it was so slight and subtle that it would have been easy to miss. Which, I suppose, is a good way to handle things like that, but when held up against something like District 9 which has a LOT to say and says it very loudly and very concisely, Monsters takes on an identity of its own. Again, that’s thanks in no small part to Gareth Edwards and his script.
Random Anecdotes: When I pulled this up on Netflix Instant I was almost convinced I had the wrong movie. Why? Well, this is the poster image I saw on Netflix:
…while this is what I’d gotten familiar with last year:
The fuck? That’s one of the worst art switches I’ve ever seen. Whomever okayed that really did a disservice to the film. If it weren’t for the fact that Scoot McNairy is a name you fucking recognize, I would have bailed from the beginning.
Cinematc Soulmates: District 9. The Mist. The Walking Dead.