Sunday, March 6, 2011

"Monsters" (2010)

Starring Whitney Able and Scoot McNairy
Written and directed by Gareth Edwards

Monsters Special Edition + Digital Copy [Blu-ray]"Monsters" is an odd little film, one that reminds me of some sort of mish-mash of "District 9" and "Sin Nombre".  According to the world of "Monsters," six years ago a NASA probe returning to Earth crash-landed in Mexico near the United States border, unleashing some kind of alien life-form on the planet.  Massive alien creatures roam the countryside, and the two governments have set up an "Infected Zone," a quarantined area patrolled constantly by both sides. 

Andrew Kaulder is a photojournalist attempting to take pictures of live creatures in Mexico, something for which he will be paid a great sum of money.  One day, he receives a call from his employer.  It seems that the man's daughter, Samantha Wynden, was injured in a creature attack nearby.  Andrew travels to that city and finds Samantha in a local hospital with only a minor injury.  His employer orders him to transport Samantha to a ferry crossing that will take her back to the United States via the Gulf of Mexico, before the Mexican government closes the harbor for the aliens "migration season." 

Though they reach the harbor in time, Andrew's carelessness leads to Sam's passport getting stolen, and she isn't allowed to board the ferry.  Instead, Andrew and Sam pay to be escorted through the Infected Zone by land, a dangerous journey to say the least.  All the while, the two grow closer, forming a budding romance as they make their way toward American soil.

As I said, "Monsters" feels a lot like a mixture of "District 9" and "Sin Nombre."  The former because of the detail involved in crafting a world where aliens have become part of daily life, and the latter because of the narrative structure of the film.  In "Monsters," the countryside is littered with damaged, broken military technology - planes, trains, tanks, trucks, etc - while helicopters and combat air patrols are a constant presence in the sky.  Andrew and Sam come across bombed out cities and ghost towns.  Children learn how to wear gas masks at an early age, taught by television cartoons.  There are signs everywhere warning people of the Infected Zone, checkpoints ban the crossing of animals and livestock, and huge walls and fences are constructed in the hopes of keeping people and aliens separated.

Andrew and Sam's journey is much like the one in "Sin Nombre," as the two characters make their way through the Mexican countryside, essentially illegal immigrants.  They learn more about each other and about the aliens that have disrupted our civilization.  But unlike "District 9" which uses its documentary style to tell a sci-fi tale, "Monsters" is more akin to a horror film in tone.  Though the titular monsters appear briefly and infrequently ("Monsters" shows its low-budget origins) when they do arrive, they are scary creatures of the night. 

"Monsters" is a fine film, well-acted by its cast, and creates an intriguing world for its characters to inhabit.  The way the final scene loops back to the film's opening introduces a tragic element to the film, but one which fits perfectly in terms of tone.  There's a sense throughout the entire movie, a sort of tinge of regret of a world lost.  Andrew and Sam meet people who struggle day to day in a world full of air strikes and chemical weapons scares, none of which they asked for, but, as a taxi cab tells Sam, where else are they supposed to go?

There are a lot of ideas and themes presented in "Monsters" which are great to chew on.  Even if the film can drag in a few places, there's quite a bit going on under the hood.  That alone makes "Monsters" worth checking out.

See Also
District 9
Sin Nombre