Movie Review: Monsters

One of the oddest things about the new science fiction film Monsters is its name. The film takes place in a world that is entirely familiar, except that we learn in the opening sequence of the film that aliens came to Earth in a NASA probe six years earlier, started breeding, and reaking havoc. Since that time, Mexico and the U.S. have attempted to contain the aliens in a large fenced area referred to as the “Infected Zone.” It is by no means a spoiler to tell you that the “monsters” look like giant walking squid because we learn that early in the movie.

Last year’s District 9 begins with a similar premise, yet humans begin to quickly call the human-sized aliens in that movie “prawns” based on their respective appearance. So why wouldn’t people in the world of Monsters call these aliens “The Squid” or something like that? Especially after six years? I guess we will just have to wonder why such a logical jump wasn’t made.

While Monsters is being compared to both the aforementioned District 9 and the more traditional monster film Cloverfield,  it stands on its on merits as unique. The film opens with an a night time clash between military forces and one of the monsters in central Mexico. We don’t see much, but basically come to understand that the monsters are able to kick some serious butt and can easily wreck buildings and cities. They are also only active at night.

The next day we meet a 30-something American photographer named Andrew. He shoots photos for a magazine and has been working just south of the infected zone, attempting to get images of the monsters. On the morning after the attack he is looking for Samantha, the 30-something daughter of the magazine publisher he works for. She was present during the attack, but Andrew finds her and discovers that only her arm was hurt. His boss asks him, however, to get his daughter back home safely. Andrew accepts the task reluctantly, especially since it doesn’t really seem like Samantha wants to go back to the U.S. This first 15 minutes sets up the rest of the film.

As a viewer might predict, the journey back to the United States quickly becomes more challenging than Andrew anticipated. The monsters are expanding their range, and all forms of transportation out of central Mexico become scarce.  During their journey, an attraction quickly grows between Andrew and Samantha, and their back stories slowly are revealed to us. That’s about all of the plot I will reveal about Monsters, as I shouldn’t give anything else away (I will add the trailer below though).

Based on a limited scanning of reviews about Monsters, many film critics seem disappointed by the lack of clarity in the film’s message. While it’s fair to say that there definitely isn’t a central message to the film’s story, there do seem to be a lot of smaller messages. Teasing out whether this is a movie making a point about immigration, otherness, the United States, or humankind’s militarism seemed kind of besides the point to me. From my perspective, I had no problem with this lack of a central message because I thought the film was highly entertaining as a “story” alone.

As for the film’s mechanics, the cinematography, special effects, and aesthetics of the film are impressive considering this is not a big-budget production. It cost only around a half million dollars to make and was shot throughout Mexico and Central America by a crew of only 7 people.

The pacing is good and I enjoyed the mysterious, pensive soundtrack (it’s not in the trailer, but can be heard at the film’s official site). Character development is strong and the way it occurs seems effortless rather than contrived (sadly a rarity in many films). The performances are also very good.

If there is any flaw to the movie (aside from the aforementioned muddled message aspect that might bother some viewers) it would perhaps be the ending. I can understand how some people might be dissatisfied, but then again there are only a couple ways this film could end. I personally liked it, but I might be in the minority.

Oh and there’s one other thing: come on directors! Why do all monsters have to sound so similar in movies?

So is Monsters an instant classic like District 9? Probably not, but I would still give it a strong recommendation. If you think the preview below looks cool, then I bet you will like it.

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