Monsters

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Robin Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Robin Clifford 
Monsters
Laura Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Laura Clifford 

ET takes on a whole new image when alien life forms come to earth and begin to populate out of control, making uninhabitable a huge part of what was once Mexico. The governments of North and Central America attempt to quarantine the creatures in the massive Infected Zone, but that may not be possible with these “Monsters.”

Robin:
Drawing strongly from the successful independent sci-fi films, “Cloverfield” and “District 9,” first-timer Gareth Edwards writes and directs an alien invasion movie that deserves science fiction fan attention. Edwards, working with a reportedly $15K budget, two actors and off-the-shelf consumer level equipment, gives us a calling card film.

Six years ago, NASA launched a space probe to investigate the possibility of an alien life form in our Solar System and collect sample. Tragically, the probe crashed in a remote part of Mexico and the alien spore rapidly spread, forcing the neighboring countries to close the massive area to human contact. The monsters, though, keep expanding their territory. Now, photographer Andrew Kaulder, on assignment at the edge of the Zone to photo the victims of the alien attacks, gets a phone call form his boss, a wealthy publisher, to find his daughter Samantha (Whitney Able) and get her on her way home to the US and safety. We know that this will be no mean feat - otherwise this would be a short, not a feature.

The story has Andrew makes one bad decision after another in an attempt to do his boss’s bidding and keep Sammy safe. Also, he does stupid things, like leave all his belongings in a hotel room with a hooker while he chases after Samantha. I know this a plot device to allow for more obstacles in the way of their quest for safety but Samantha should turn and run every time Andrew says, “Don’t worry, it will be OK.” You know, and so should Sam, that it will not be.

Clunky dialog and unexplained story threads - like, why do they need gasmasks? To protect from monster farts? – show Gareth Edwards’s inexperience at screenwriting. However, the imagination required to put his own spin on an alien invasion yarn shows that he has talent and, with more experience (and money), could be a filmmaker to watch. Considering the budget and guerrilla-style filmmaking, Edwards deserves our attention. I give it a B-.

Laura:
Years ago, NASA sent up an exploratory capsule to collect samples of alien life.  They were successful, but the capsule's reentry was not, crashing into the jungles of Mexico.  Now, six years later, half of the country is quarantined as the Infected Zone.  Photographer Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy, "In Search of a Midnight Kiss") is there to get money shots of alien aftermath when he's ordered to bring home the boss's daughter, Samantha Wynden (Whitney Able, "All the Boys Love Mandy Lane"), home safely, but when they miss the last ferry out before a six month border shutdown, they're faced with crossing the Zone with its 100 meter high "Monsters."

Writer/cinematographer/production designer/director Gareth Edwards moves from documentaries to his first feature with a story that is like a cross between "District 9" and "The Mist" with a heart-on-its-sleeve theme about illegal immigration and American Imperialism.  Except for its two leads, "Monsters" was shot with inexperienced actors found on location, but while they deliver natural performances, the often improvised dialogue has opened the door for large plot holes and drag-on exchanges (Sam on the phone with her father) which disturb immersion in the experience. "Monsters'" best attribute is its often stunning city and landscapes, not any pulsing sense of horror.

The film begins with a night vision point of view of soldiers in a Jeep who, of course, encounter a monster, one which we get brief glimpses of (it looks like a cow's fetus on 100 foot skinny crab legs with lots of tentacles), before jumping into the main story.  Kaulder's not happy to be tasked with taking a rich girl home when he should be shooting pictures of dead Mexicans, but when they become stranded by a train that has to return to its starting point because of ruined tracks, the bonding begins.  After a nice Mexican woman gives them food and shelter they make their way to the sea to find a ferry and are shocked to discover tickets cost $5,000, much like the extortion that goes on to smuggle illegal immigrants.  Wouldn't this type of thing be reported back home?  A ticket is bought for Sam for 7 a.m. the next day, then the two spend the night at what appears to be a Day of the Dead like festival for the 5,000 killed by the monsters.  Kaulder has too much tequila, but even so, there is an attraction, despite Sam's fiance (one whom she seems to have little enthusiasm for).

The next day everything gets bungled, and although negotiations with the ferry ticket man show Edwards' expertise in working with the locals the reason(s) for the mishap just don't make any sense whatsoever. Now they're offered a guided journey across the Zone at twice the price, even though they had already paid for the ferry.  With no money, Sam offers up her engagement ring (diamante!) and Kaulder insists its worth fare for two.  What they encounter won't surprise many except for the faint echoes of Fitzcarraldo's river journey and Kaulder's complete failure to shoot any pictures when aliens are around.   When they finally reach their destination, we are left to wonder why the U.S. has built its own version of the Great Wall at the border except for one gaping hole where our protagonists can march right in.  Oh, and the monsters can too.

"Monsters" looks good for its tiny budget, including the monstrous special effects, but except for its hammered home illegal immigrant allegory, its not really anything new.  The lead actors are OK, their attraction accepted as that of those who've survived a dramatic event together more than any real spark. Edwards does have an eye, though, for a Central American city built up around a mountain or a boat on a river whose windows spill out the orange pink light of dawn behind it onto the rippling river.

C
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