Before Gareth Edwards directed the respectable but not great Godzilla (2014) he wrote and directed Monsters. I haven’t seen Rogue One (his third feature film) but Monsters and Godzilla are similar in their amazing monster scenes and below average characters and dialogue.
Released in 2010 starring Scoot McNairy (Killing them Softly) and Whitney Able, Monsters is an ambitious independent monster movie.
Independent and Monster are not two words that normally describe a good movie as large destructive creatures require a massive budget to reach the realm of believability. I went into this movie thinking it was going to look like something that would air on the Syfy channel.
Surprisingly the monsters (only referred to as “creatures” in the movie) looked good. Most of the time the monsters were shown via grainy footage on news casts on TV’s in the background, a creative way of saving money.
The plot is interesting enough, alien creatures have infected northern Mexico and the world is slowly succumbing to their attacks. NASA sent a probe into space to investigate the presence of extraterrestrial life in the solar system. The probe crashed back on earth bringing the alien creature with it.
Andrew (Scott McNairy) a photo journalist was hired by his rich mysterious employer to find his daughter Sam (Whitney Able) in Mexico and bring her back to the States.
In their journey back to America they encounter drama filled situations involving romance, mystery, and alien creatures.
Monsters is impressive for what it is, but it is far from being a good movie. The two main characters Andrew and Sam, are characterized through awkward dialogue and lazy exposition filled phone conversations. The premise and monster effects are worthy of their praise, but their impact is severely weakened by the empty characters.
First I want to discuss what I liked about Monsters. It obviously has a small budget but worked around the “lack of monster scenes” problem well. The presence of monsters is always felt with helicopters looming constantly and scenes of destruction.
I also liked the circular loop the plot makes ending how it began. A found footage scene of military personnel on a rescue mission being attacked by a monster starts the movie. Andrew and Sam are the two people being rescued by the military which is revealed in the final scene.
The final scene at the gas station where Andrew and Sam encounter two creatures is well done. The reveal of the creatures hovering above the station in the dark skies was via small flashes of lightning creating a thrilling feeling of dread. The creatures are attracted to electricity, something that is explained through good direction (a tentacle latching onto a glowing TV) instead of over explained talking like the rest of the movie. The two creatures at the gas station get together to do some kind of intimate dance showing that they care for each other and allows the viewer to feel sympathetic towards them (they are just like Andrew and Sam, a couple who care for each other trying to survive in a confusing time).
Other than that, this movie kind of sucks. The characters, dialogue, and symbolism are brutally bad.
Andrew and Sam form a romantic relationship during the movie that confused me. It was clear that Sam was engaged and wanted nothing to do with the advancements made by Andrew (who is divorced with a son). The morning that Sam was scheduled to ride a ferry back to the states, she discovers Andrew hooked up with a local chick. She is clearly hurt by this and has an awkward “I thought we had something” good bye with him on the docks. Andrew then gets robbed and loses Sam’s passport. This is what leads them going through the infested zone and is the source of the conflict of the movie. Instead of hating Andrew for this, Sam thanks him later on and continues to form feelings for him. The romantic relationship makes no sense.
The dialogue and exposition feel very independent-ish. While talking to the ferry ticket guy, Andrew and Sam learn that the border between Mexico and the US is going to be shut down in 48 hours. So if Andrew doesn’t get Sam to the states in 2 days, she won’t be able to leave Mexico for six months. This leads to Andrew saying the most pukey “this is what’s going on” sentence of all time: “So let me get this straight. If we don’t get her over the border in the next 48 hours she is going to be stuck her for 6 months?”
Andrew and Sam had a night to kill before the ferry left in the morning. They got liquored up and had a good time listening to music and walking the town. In their enjoyment they stumbled into a massive candle lit memorial for all of the people killed by the creatures. The music and mood become more somber as the two looked at the pictures of the dead kids. Andrew then said the unsubtle line of “the vibe just changed.” Christ, we know, thanks for over explaining it.
While riding in the little boat making their way through the infested zone, Andrew and Sam have a conversation. It has already been established through not answering her fiance’s calls and pawning her engagement ring that Sam is having second thoughts about her upcoming marriage. During this conversation Andrew explains that he could tell that his wife was going to leave him, they were one of those couples that are just destined for failure. After saying this line the camera stays on the concerned face of Sam driving the point home with nuclear bomb like subtly that Sam doesn’t love her fiance.
Later in the film when the two come across a Mayan temple another subtle line of dialogue makes an appearance when Andrew jokingly asks Sam “what’d you find Cortes?” Get it, because Cortes explored Mexico.
An example of sloppy dialogue took place after the two made it back into the states. The border town they walked through was deserted except for a crazy homeless person. When walking around the destroyed town Sam asks out loud “what happened here?” Andrew quickly answers her question with “I don’t know.” Then the very next line of dialogue from Andrew is “if you ask me this looks like an air strike.” Well she did ask you just seconds before and you said I don’t know.
Edwards slaps the viewer across the face with ham handed symbolism. Two examples are memorable for being especially garish.
When begging the ferry ticket guy for another ticket without a passport, Andrew and Sam learned that the man could get them to the states through less legal means, but it would cost more money than they have. Sam then offers her expensive engagement ring for payment, the rare literal symbolism that signifies the end of her relationship.
After being attacked by the creatures which resulted in the death of the mercenaries protecting them, Andrew finds a dead girl. As a photo journalist he receives the most money for pictures of dead children as they draw the most eyes and scandalous attention. When he told Sam this, she was disgusted by it and thought it was immoral. As Andrew looked sadly upon the dead girl (who was wearing a red dress, red = death) he covered her up with a blanket instead of exploiting her death for money by taking a picture. This heavy-handed portrayal of change was seen by Sam in the distance which furthered her weird attraction towards him.
Monsters is a disappointing movie that had a lot of potential. If you don’t mind found footage films or the annoying voice of TJ Miller, just go watch Cloverfield as it is a much better alien monster movie.