A friend subtitled this movie based on its premise District 9 II: Immigration Reform, and we laughed at the brazenness of the writer/director/cinematographer setting the Infected Zone in the border states of Mexico. Monsters is a story not of an alien invasion, but the hassle of the aftermath of an alien invasion. Unlike District 9, the victimized citizenry are the humans, and the aliens are implacable death machines — or are they? It’s been six years since Mexico was overrun with these Lovecraftian tentaculosaurs, so our story is concerned with the somewhat contrived and well-tread premise of two Americans trying to get back to the States with all these terrible, predatory obstacles.
Monsters owes a lot to a spate of bigger movies besides District 9 (visually obvious homages take up most of the creatures’ screen time) in terms of presenting its bogeymen. The filmmakers save money but increase effectiveness by limiting our exposure to the creatures — a sense of unease prevails when they could be anywhere. You know, anywhere — just like immigrants! I actually don’t think the movie was meant to be some grand statement about illegal aliens or the ludicrousness of immigration law debate — and I am grateful it didn’t actually go there.
Our leads are right out of any odd couple road movie — pig guy and princess girl forced to rely on each other for survival — and the dialogue is actually really terrible (like a menu written by a non-native speaker terrible). That said, this little low-budget feature is one of the most beautifully shot films I’ve seen in a while*. The camera lingers over some really nice, surreal scenes of years-past destruction, and dollops light delicately onto its palette. Gareth Edwards wrote, shot, and directed this movie, and he also did the production design and visual effects; with all that going on perhaps we can forgive him not noticing that his game and determined leads Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able were dropping wooden lines here and there. Their performances were up to the demanding task of carrying this film’s most crucial moments with such a small support crew. Their fear and sense of reality is great — I feel their weariness, their stinkiness, their awkward tensions — but the actual sentences — pee-yoo!
Monsters is really about these characters’ quest for home, and not so much specifically about the titular thing that is stopping them from getting there, or what is pulling them either. Finally, a scene near the end gives us the best dialogue in the film, and accordingly, the best performances and the best view of the monsters. If the whole movie had been up to that scene’s level, I would have given it a higher rating for certain. I still enjoyed it, and hope you see it, but it’s not worth too much of your hard earned-money.
*this assessment was made prior to seeing The King’s Speech or TRON: Legacy.
MPAA Rating: R-language
Release date: 9/30/10
Time in minutes: 94
Director: Gareth Edwards
Studio: Vertigo Films