Last week I reviewed a Filipino horror movie “The Road” that could’ve been great if it wasn’t for the uneven direction and tepid acting. It is so sad that such an ambitious film with the right ingredients can be ruined by things that may or not may have been under its control. Well, director Gareth Edwards’ (director of TV’s Attila The Hun) UK film “Monsters” have a lot in its mind, and it has all the right ingredients to become a tighter, more interesting production. Edwards is on the right track with this film, as we see shades of “District 9” and the fantasy comedy “Evolution” around its premise as he creates an almost original sci-fi drama. Too bad, it may have been held back because it tried to over-reach despite Edwards‘ capable eye for direction.
Six years after a NASA probe crash lands in Mexico, alien life forms have began to establish themselves in the Earth; taking over most of the Northern Mexican territories and threatening to migrate into the U.S. border. The U.S. armed forces struggle to keep the alien at bay, while they create a few inroads while quarantining the alien-infested area. Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy) is a photojournalist assigned to document the alien infestation and now, he has been asked to retrieve Samantha (Whitney Able), his employer’s injured daughter and make sure that she makes it safely back to America. Losing their passports meant that they had to miss the last ferry to America and so, they must take the alternative to be on the road inside the infested zone. While on the road, the two linger, and open up, and there is a wedding in Samantha’s future. When mistakes and bad luck cause them to take much longer to get to the border, the two find out things about the alien creatures and of themselves…
“Monsters” is not something that anyone can expect. This is something that I liked about it. Instead of going ala-”Godzilla” or “Cloverfield” with all the explosive military might versus aliens, it goes something more similar to a drama and an allegory about illegal immigration amidst an alien infestation. There is something that draws me to this premise, I felt that it was really sincere and honest with the manner it sidesteps the staples of the alien monster genre. It endeavors to create some realism and honest humanity around it, as we get to see what really is a monster and how somethings maybe just need to be adapted to. There is a subtext around it, and the metaphor about illegal immigration is so rich that you can see the perils one go through to reach a promised land.
Edwards handles the atmosphere and mood quite well (he also wrote the script). He knew how to handle the emotions of a scene, and the way the film is shot is dreary to reflect the frustrations of such a journey. I guess, the film does everything quite well, but the problem comes from the subplot that appeared to take over the film. This subplot is a kind of a romantic one. I understand, Andrew and Samantha were taken out of their respective comfort zones and this usually has the potential to create something more intimate between two people. It was just the way this subplot was handled that I did not buy into. The script lingered a little too much, and it seemed to divert from its interesting pretext.
McNairy and Able appeared to be a little lost in the scenes. With what was supposed to be a scene for connecting, they struggled to form a sort of chemistry; and when they did, it was something that felt heavy-handed as the direction seemed to divert from its premise to establish their connection. I understood, but I became bored with the execution of the script. It would’ve been more engaging if the two were in constant explorer mode, as they encounter different things in the infested zone. I know, Edwards was trying for a more sensitive route to embody its revelation of its monsters as mere protective parents, but the two clearly could not connect and the subplot threatened to ruin everything. It becomes exasperating and frankly, quite monotonous.
I guess, “Monsters” could’ve benefited if it was edited to be a lot shorter and lost some of its excesses. The CGI effects were decent (the creatures looked like a cross between a spider, octopus and a squid with luminous properties), but it was obvious that they were done a little too cheap. This film would’ve done really well if it focused on its supposed strengths that developed its potential enigmatic qualities rather stretching out the devices and elements that proved to be very tiresome. It does get major brownie points for originality and ambition. Too bad, it became insignificant with a rather small poignant reward.