Tuesday, September 15, 2015

"Monsters: Dark Continent" (2014)

Starring Sam Keeley, Johnny Harris and Joe Dempsie
Written by Jay Basu
Directed by Tom Green
Rated R — Violence, strong language, nudity/sex
Running Time: 119 Minutes

Four buddies from Detroit — Michael (Sam Keeley), Frankie (Joe Dempsie), Inkelaar (Kyle Soller) and Williams (Parker Sawyers) — have one last debaucherous evening before shipping out to the Middle East. There, they meet their commander, Frater (Johnny Harris) and head out on patrol, where they must not only contend with the rising violence of insurgency but the massive alien creatures that roam the deserts.

When the team is decimated by an IED and the ensuing gunbattle, the survivors must make their way across the open desert, with danger closing in on all sides.

There's really not too much one can say about "Monsters: Dark Continent." It's a movie that's kind of at war with itself. It draws from all your standard war movie tropes and drops in some fantastically designed alien creatures that... don't really mean much or matter at all. It feels like someone took two movie scripts and mashed them together and out came "Dark Continent," ostensibly a sequel or spinoff to Gareth Evans' 2010 low-budget original. (It's easy to see why that film landed Evans the gig directing the big-screen reboot of "Godzilla.")

The titular monsters are mostly scene dressing here, impressive though it may be for a direct-to-video piece. If anything, there's a surprising technical proficiency to "Dark Continent." It doesn't look nearly as terrible as one might expect. In fact, the few scenes that do feature the alien creatures generally look great. It's just that... they don't matter at all. You could easily remove them and the movie wouldn't really be much different.

And why? Why bother making a movie about a squad of soldiers in a world slowly being colonized by aliens only to have them fight... Jordanians? The original film used the dangerous crossing of alien territory as an allegory for immigration, but this film drops its characters into a ripped-from-the-headlines situation that doesn't really make much sense. If the filmmakers wanted use their sci-fi film as commentary on the situation in the Middle East, surely there's a way to integrate the sci-fi part of that into the picture. When Frater breaks down at the end and asks what they're doing here, why they even bother, I found myself asking the same question both of myself (why am I watching this) and of the filmmakers (why did you make this).

The characters are so disposable that the movie literally disposes of them as soon as it can. The surviving two characters have themselves a little odyssey and one of them, Frater, breaks down emotionally. But it's hard to give a crap because these characters are so stock and the acting doesn't do anything impressive to rise above the limitations of the script.

With a running time of 119 minutes, the movie is a bit of a slog since there's very little to get you invested. If you absolutely must watch every movie about soldiers in the Middle East, go ahead and try it, but you've seen all of this before.