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Monsters (2010)

March 4, 2011

7/10 Gringo Getaways

Kidnapping, diarrhea water and 100-foot-tall land-walking octopi from outer space. Three great reasons I will never go to Mexico.

Monsters takes place six years after aliens landed on Earth, ripped shit up and turned a huge chunk of Central America into a breeding ground for squids the size of the Chrysler Building. So when an American photojournalist ends up having to escort his boss’ daughter through the said breeding ground and back to American soil, he’s none too happy about the situation, but they head out through the wasteland all the same and do their best to dodge getting eaten, crushed, or whatever it is that giant aliens do when they get pissed off.

I don’t know where I was when this was out in theaters, ’cause it wasn’t until months after it came and went that everyone around the blogosphere started writing about it and indirectly made me feel shame for dropping the ball in a year where I thought I’d done a pretty kickass job of hitting the theater. Anywho, I’ve been counting down the days until this came to Netflix Instant, and after finally getting a chance to judge the hype for myself, it’s nice to find that a lot of it is actually warranted.

Written and directed by newcomer Gareth Edwards whose budget for this was apparently five nickels and food stamps, it’s pretty effing wild the stuff he manages to pull off and pull off well. As far as dystopias are concerned, this one’s more along the lines of Children of Men than War of the Worlds. Even with the mega octopi running around, the destruction is subtle and it’s all in the details. No flaming trains, no military raids, just decaying buildings that have long since been abandoned, faded billboards of gas masks and forbidden zones, and it feels lived-in, like the citizens of Mexico just started adapting to the invasion rather than turn their homes into more of a warzone than it already is. It’s nothing too in-your-face, and considering that I think Children of Men is more or less the be-all end-all when it comes to capturing the apocalypse on film, I very much dig that about this movie.

And on top of that, the special effects totally rock. Not only are the octopi some fresh looking creatures that blend in gorgeously to their real-life surroundings, but the same thing goes for all the rusted and busted planes, trains and automobiles that riddle the landscapes. Man, this thing looks beautiful even without the special effects. If it weren’t for all that kidnapping nonsense that I mentioned earlier, I’d be half-tempted to book it down to Mexico to see some of these sights for myself. But alas, it just ain’t worth the ransom money.

So going off the title, the synopsis and all this talk of sweet special effects and such, one might lead to believe that this would be nothing short of a 93-minute rush of uncut, Colombian adrenaline to the face. Sorry to disappoint those of you who had your hopes up in this regard, but this is not that kind of movie. Yeah, the monsters are there and the title isn’t exactly false advertising since they do run train on some trigger-happy hermanos here and there, but it’s not really about that.

In fact, it ends up being more of a metaphor for illegal immigration than anything else (at least I think it was), and as lame as that may sound, it works because Gareth knows the story he’s trying to tell and he knows he doesn’t have the budget for ¡Viva la Cloverfield! Instead of a non-stop thrill ride, he gives us two great characters that are easy to connect to and who have a lot going on below the surface, and while that may not seem as interesting as the aliens around them, you’d be surprised. It marches to the beat of its own drum, it’s almost like The Motorcycle Diaries mixed with E.T. or something, and I like how different it is. Nice to see a new take on a genre that’s usually lacking in the thinking department and doesn’t tend to leave a whole lot of room for interpretation.

And the acting’s good, too. Scoot McNairy (short for Scooter, I guess?) and Whitney Able play our accidental tourists Andrew and Samantha respectively, and for two actors who are newcomers in my book, they’re really good. Well, the roles don’t exactly require a whole lot from ’em, but they come off as very natural and it’s fun to watch them together. I cared about these two, they felt real, and they carried the movie. Nice acting and writing combo at play here.

But, unfortunately, poor Scoot has to go shirtless at one point and is forced to reveal the blatantly obvious tramp stamp that he must regret in the absolute worst way. Doesn’t have anything to do with the movie as a whole, but since the male tramp stamp is a rare thing to behold and I can only imagine the kind of shit he must have gotten for that, it must be mentioned. Exactly why I keep second-guessing the tattoo I wanna get.

So for those who are intrigued, the double-edged sword of Monsters is that it’s probably not what you’d expect. I can see how some folks would love the anti-creature feature approach and I can see how it would disappoint the hell out of others. But for such a low budget, it accomplishes way more than I expected and it’s smart enough to play to the strengths of its downplayed script rather than rely on superficial eye candy. It’s a movie that I’ve been thinking a lot about since finishing it and it’s a movie I’ll probably keep on thinking about until I can actually talk to someone else about it, and even though I wish it had more excitement to balance out the buildup, it’s pretty damn impressive.

28 Comments leave one →
  1. March 4, 2011 3:09 am

    Well, I am one of those people that was disappointed by this… it felt so dull and moody and uninteresting. I’m not sure if I was watching the same movie, but the special effects were horrible to me… :/

    • March 7, 2011 2:03 pm

      Haha. You might be right on the special effects, sometimes I’m a bad judge of that. But still, thought it was a pretty unique take on the formula and worked in a lot of surprising ways. Then again, I can totally see how you or anyone else for that matter would be disappointed and I can’t knock ya’ for it.

  2. March 4, 2011 10:46 am

    I really liked how the film was made, especially when you consider the budget used. The plot just doesn’t go anywhere, though. I know Edwards essentially did everything himself, but I hope for his next film he at least gets a co-writer.

    • March 7, 2011 2:07 pm

      As far as plot is concerned, yeah, it doesn’t really go anywhere, but I really liked just getting to know the characters and I thought that aspect carried along pretty well. Still, I hear ya’.

  3. nothatwasacompliment permalink
    March 4, 2011 11:34 am

    i appreciated what this movie was trying to do, and it certainly was a good technical achievement considering the budget…but i was disappointed with it. didn’t hate it or anything, just thought the characters and dialogue were dull. i didn’t find myself caring about the characters at all.

    still, it does look great, even when there’s no special effects on screen. i just thought it was filmed well. add more interesting characters, and i would have really liked it.

    • March 7, 2011 2:08 pm

      Word. Definitely a pretty movie, but the whole thing could have used a bit more fleshing out. Still, think I liked the characters more than most did.

  4. HermioneO permalink
    March 4, 2011 12:43 pm

    Not what I expect? I never even heard about this until your review. WTF?

  5. March 4, 2011 5:50 pm

    I was really impressed by Monsters. I thought the post-apocalyptic expanse they have to journey through was beautifully constructed, considering the budget. I thought both performances were quite good too. Different to what I was expecting, but a pleasant surprise. Nice review!

    • March 7, 2011 2:10 pm

      Thanks! “Impressive’s” the word, right there with ya’. Think the fact that it was so different is exactly what made it stand out for me rather than what left me disappointed. Glad you dug it, too.

  6. March 5, 2011 1:39 pm

    Edawrds is the awesomness for actually pulling this shizzle off. Major props.

  7. March 5, 2011 8:21 pm

    Why does everyone keep saying “considering the budget”? What if I make a 10 cent movie and it turns out to be junk. Am I going to win an Oscar because everyone will “consider my budget”?

    • March 7, 2011 2:16 pm

      Well if you’re 10-cent movie turns out to be shit, it might be because you only had 10 cents to finance it. Just impressive to see someone pull off something very visually impressive with a fraction of the budget that big shots have at their disposal to make the stuff of similar quality.

  8. March 7, 2011 7:55 pm

    Aiden – this is a film that really embraced its low budget – the setting, premise and low-grade effects were really good. The horrible acting was…well…you know.

    I give all props to the director as he really made something out of nothing here and the film was still quite enjoyable despite the no-name cast doing their worst to sink the project. Better actors could’ve made this thing something really special.

    I heard this guy is being tapped to do a Godzilla update – could be interesting if he follows his template here – or it could be god-awful.

    • March 7, 2011 7:56 pm

      Oh, yeah, and the cinematography was really good!

    • March 8, 2011 9:32 am

      Totally agree, but I didn’t think the acting was THAT bad. Just that guy’s tramp stamp, that was bad.

      And I heard something about him doing the Godzilla update, too. You’re right, could be a trainwreck, but hopefully it sticks to this formula or at least goes back to the glory days of Gojira.

  9. March 11, 2011 11:24 am

    I suppose I just don’t buy the comments about this going nowhere. It’s a low-drama plot, given how little the titular beasts make their presence felt, but it’s not free of conflict and Edwards knows how to keep things tense in the film’s quieter moments (which make up the bulk of its running time). Really this is about two lonely and unsatisfied people finding each other and falling in love; it’s also absolutely about issues of immigration, though it ponders more than it preaches.

    This was one of my favorites from last year. Glad to see it get some love.

    • March 14, 2011 12:33 pm

      Yeah, I’m with you on this one. I definitely felt like the plot moved along, just that it was more character-based than story-based. And with that whole last “alien dance” scene, I figured that was a tip-off towards American attitudes towards immigration more than anything else. Just wasn’t 100% on it.

      Glad you dug it so much, deserves the recognition. And thanks for stopping by, man. Don’t be a stranger.

  10. Lupe permalink
    March 13, 2011 2:05 pm

    I really liked this movie. The character development was great as well as the special effects. I was blown away by the last moments of the film and how it ties in to another part of the movie. I don’t want to spoil it for others but had to watch it again to make sure I got it right when I realized it.

    • March 14, 2011 1:11 pm

      Glad you dug it and I’m right there with ya’ on the character development and special effects. Wasn’t expecting much from either but they were surprisingly solid.

      And thanks for stopping by!

  11. March 14, 2011 3:14 am

    The plot not going anywhere is a problem for most films but not this one because it didn’t rely on the plot to drive the story forward. Sure, there were aliens and they would kill if disturbed but it was really more about the journey of two people who could have a chance of sharing something deeper other than, “Oh, let me take you across the border because my boss, who happens to be your dad, asked me to.” We wanted them to make it through because of that chance.

    You’re not thinking of getting a tramp stamp, are you? hahah!

  12. March 14, 2011 11:12 am

    It think it all worked fine for me, thought it could have used a bit more emotion/exposition/story. It reminded me of a mix between Darabont’s The Mist and The Road.

    Although I think the film gets points for pulling a Tarantino and doing the whole thing as one giant flashback. Not sure how many people picked up on that (the G.I. singing “Ride of the Valeryes” is a clue) but I thought it was a nice touch:)

    • March 14, 2011 2:00 pm

      Never seen The Mist (even though I’ve always wanted to) and I can totally see The Road connection. Good call.

      But I don’t know about the whole Tarantino “full circle” nod at the end. Definitely picked up on it as soon as I heard him singing that song, but it didn’t really add anything to the story other than make me go “Oh, the beginning was actually the ending. Neat?” If the two leads got offed in the ensuing battle, THAT I would have dug, but as is, it doesn’t really add or detract from the movie as a whole for me. Interesting though all the same.

  13. November 27, 2011 9:06 am

    Great review, i loved this film so it’s good to see someone appreciating it! The aliens and war really are more of a backdrop, and a spectacular one at that. I see it as the kind of lost in translationy relationship that drives it, two people meeting in an alien (intended) landscape and finding comfort in each others company. I suppose if you don’t take to the characters though, there’s not a lot else to grab on to. I’d just got back from travelling in Central America when i saw it, so it struck a chord.

    • November 28, 2011 8:22 am

      Thanks! I’m sure the Central America connection added to the experience, but still, a pretty memorable and unexpected movie. Dig the Lost in Translation connection too. Been a while since I saw this, odd that the one thing that sticks out most is the lead actor’s tramp stamp that you see for all of one second. Anyway, might have to revisit this one again, good stuff.

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