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September 25, 2010

Monsters

(2010, Dir. by Gareth Edwards.)

Haunting and poetic, Gareth Edwards' Monsters is one of the most gripping sci-fi films I've ever seen.  The film, which follows two characters on their journey across alien-infested sections of Mexico and the Southern U.S., has drawn comparisons to last year's sleeper hit District 9, though these seem unfair when looking at the final product.  While that movie was a action-packed effort, Monsters plays more like Lost in Translation would when mixed with the plot of War of the Worlds.

For about 80% of the film, viewers will probably struggle to figure out why the film is even titled Monsters.  It opens with title cards that explain how aliens were discovered in our solar system, came to Earth, and caused the government to Mexico an "Infected Zone", yet the creatures appear on screen for mere moments of the 93 minute film.  The opening sequence, in which Army forces attack one of the towering, tentacled creatures is about half of the action we're going to get in the film.  The creatures are incredibly realized when they are on-screen - they definitely look better than the effects I've seen in most independent films - and the few encounters with the creatures had my eyes glued to the screen.

These monsters need to step aside, however, because the stars of the film are Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able (who co-starred in the doomed indie horror All the Boys Love Mandy Lane).  The two aren't big names, but they spend almost every second of screen-time playing off each other, and do so perfectly.  McNairy plays Andrew, a photographer who works for the girl's father and has been assigned to bring her home to her fiancee, and offers a jaded view on the events that have occurred over the past six years.  Able's Samantha doesn't seem to trust the photographer as their journey begins, as he hits on her despite her engagement and talks about the benefits he gains from the destruction around them.  One of the most telling exchanges occurs when he explains that he gets paid well for a picture of a child killed by the monsters and doesn't get paid for a picture of a smiling child.  Samantha seems to be hiding from the world around her (an attempt to stay pure, perhaps?), yet Andrew insists that she recognize the sad truths around them and accept that things have changed for the worst.

As I watched these two characters together on their journey, I couldn't help thinking about how well their relationship is drawn out.  I mentioned Lost in Translation earlier, which seems like an odd comparison to make with a sci-fi film, but that film - like Monsters - builds its central relationship on the principles of proximity and stress.  Think back to the last job you had where you worked as part of a two-person team with a stranger.  Things probably started awkwardly, but when you're stuck together facing a common goal, connections are often formed.  At times this just means you agree to disagree and move on toward the goal, but at times deeper friendships are forged because people adapt to each other well.  Lost in Translation succeeded in showing how two strangers can become close in this type of situation, and I think Monsters focuses on the same ideas when dealing with its characters.  Through Edwards' script and direction, McNairy and Able succeed in presenting a realistic connection that doesn't turn the realtionship into your average Hollywood story.

Edwards served as director, writer, and director of photography on the film, and his control of the film seems masterful.  The camera lingers on wide shots that show the grand scope of the monsters' destruction, and is complemented beautifully by Jon Hopkins' musical score.  The dialogue, like the characters, seems pretty natural - Andrew does occasionally sound like he's trying to hammer home a message to Samantha, but it's a minimal complaint.  I mentioned that the monster effects are strong, but it bears repeating - a final act reveal of the creatures is among the more beautiful things I've seen onscreen in a long time.

There are also some obvious commentaries about society and immigration at work in Monsters.  I could stop to focus on them, but I don't need them.  I can settle for what the film offers with its two main characters dealing with an other-worldly adversity, and how it becomes one of the most resonant relationships I've seen in a genre film.  Monsters took my breath away, yet kept the titular creatures on the side of the picture, appearing to be almost a third wheel.

Available now for rental on VOD/XBOX/Amazon/etc. (and coming to theaters October 29th), Edwards' simple approach to this tale makes Monsters the most fascinating film I've experienced this year.

3 comments:

Hey! Look Behind You! said...

I saw this listed on PPV and was wondering about it. Now I really want to see it (waiting for my Oct movie fest though)

Planet of Terror said...

I can't wait to see this.

BTW Mike, your writing is top notch. Keep up the great work.

The Mike said...

Looking forward to both of your responses to it. This is definitely gonna be one of those movies I want to talk to everyone about. :)

And James, many thanks for the compliment. It's greatly appreciated.