Monsters is, as the title suggests, a monster movie. Sort of. It’s also an impressive achievement for a first-time director, much less one who had a tiny budget and created all the effects himself on an Intel-powered computer. The basic premise is set up in about three sentences at the start of the film—that a NASA probe sent for proof of life crashed over Mexico and deposited that alien life there. It’s quarantined as an “infected” zone, but nothing the military has done in six years has really contained it, and now the creatures are simply a fact of life around the zone….
The specific story of the film follows photojournalist Kaulder (Scoot McNairy) who must escort his publisher’s daughter Sam (Whitney Able) out of Mexico before travel is suspended for six months around the infected zone. Inevitably, things go wrong, until they realize they have no choice but to go through the zone itself…where more things go wrong.
First, I loved this movie. It views in this weird combination of mystery, travelogue, and adventure movie. I can’t call it a horror movie, despite it being essentially a monster movie, because while there are horrific moments the whole is not. The whole is, in fact, more a love story than anything else—sort of an accidental love story. The moments of emotional binding between Kaulder and Sam are almost palpable, and yet the romance is not overblown or scripted or any of the other things movie love stories too often are.
Second, while you can tell watching this movie that it was not made with a large budget (tiny cast and few effects), you realize that it didn’t need a large budget. The film relies on the tension in the situation and the emotional arcs the characters are on both alone and together to keep you invested in the story. The few glimpses of the monsters you get early on make you curious to see more, while visual details in the setting (such as signs, protective clothing, military vehicles) and attitudes of the characters make them omnipresent in this world. The filming is beautiful and almost documentarian, which only makes the story more believable.
I think that’s what really drove this movie: it was believable. The places looked real and the people felt real, and that sold the situation as also being real.
As far as the effects go, I would not have guessed they were “home-grown,” so to speak, if I hadn’t known that going in. There were places where the monsters are shown in night vision situations, or on a television in the background, when they look as good as anything I’ve seen anywhere. The biggest scene with them at the end is rendered beautifully, and in the few places the effects truly look like CG, it’s still better CG than top-budget movies from five years ago.
There’s not a whole lot more I can say about this movie without giving too much away, and I think it’s better if you go in pretty blind, but my bottom line on it is “See it.” Forget comparisons to Cloverfield or District 9—Monsters is playing in a different corner of the SF theme park. It’s not a fast-paced movie, but it kept me fascinated the entire time and made me want to watch it again as soon as it was over. I am not sure how widely this movie is available just yet, but I was able to rent it on iTunes, and I think it’s releasing at the end of this month in limited distribution. If you can’t wait for a theater, do the digital rental. And if it comes to a big screen around here, I’ll definitely see it again. So, yeah, bottom line: see this movie. It’s on my shortlist for my next best SF movies of the decade list, because it’s a film I expect to still be watching in ten years, and I really can’t offer any higher praise for a movie than that.
Editor’s note: stay tuned for an interview I grabbed with director Gareth Edwards at NY Comic Con! And check out out Hal Duncan’s essay on the Monsters.
Very worthy review and I second both the excellence of this film and also its inclusion as an early runner for your top 10 sci-fi of the next decade.
This reviewer is a shill for the movie and movie-maker. It’s an alien/romance movie wrapped around a thinly-veiled accusation of America and its policies toward Mexican and other immigrants coupled with just about every other anti-American sentiment. Americans are portrayed as distant, war-mongering, wall-building, destructive, whale-killing, rich idiots who care nothing for nature or other races of the world.
In this movie, America is building a big, expensive wall to keep out the “aliens” (read illegal aliens) who are not bad but only want to live their peaceful, loving lives where they please, and deserve to live. The gas-masks are not for a defense against the aliens, but the Americans who drop chemical weapons on everyone. The revelation is that we–the Americans–are the weapons of mass destruction wreaked upon the world. Anyone–in the director’s opinion–in their right mind, if they care to take a walk on the wild side, wouldn’t want to call the U.S. “home.”
Hey shill: take a pill! We who –think– unmasked your plot to infiltrate the minds of young Americans. Why not make your movie about the horrible British who hate the rest of the world? Take a good look at yourselves before you come attacking us for the policies you hate but don’t have to defend.
Isocrates – glad I’m not the only who’s seen it!
John of insight – clearly you have none. did you even see the movie before shooting your mouth off? didn’t think so.
Wonderful and beautiful film. If only James Cameron would take notes! John of A-Hole, in the movie, the aliens are portrayed not as noble creatures seeking a land of opportunity in America, but merely as forces of nature…sometimes beautiful, but most times rampaging and killing innocent people. Indeed the two Americans (and the locals they meet) are quite humanistic. Even from the start, the two American stars are not portrayed as evil US citizens who “wake up” after their journey, but as normal decent people caught in an act of nature that the US AND the Mexicans have yet to learn how to deal with. You can impose what you want on any film…I could say this film was anti-press, as the star was encouraged to take pictures of death and carnage and that aspect is an important part of the dialogue. Or I could say it was symbolic of global warming, these rampaging monsters growing and spreading and displacing people as all the US’s technology and half-measures become more and more impotent in face of this awesome force. In the end, maybe the best movie is one you can interpret personally. Personally I see a subtle love and adventure story. So why don’t you let everyone else make up their mind before YOU, John, shill for your right-wing knee-jerk factory.
i love this movie, i just read review on IMDB and the movie is great to watch
thanks for reviewing this movie.