Monsters is a sci-fi alien film and is being promoted as a sci-fi alien film but it’s not really a sci-fi alien film as it’s a love story with a beautiful and unexpected ending.
Monsters is a sci-fi alien film and is being promoted as a sci-fi alien film but it’s not really a sci-fi alien film as it’s a love story with a beautiful and unexpected ending. It just happens to be set in the future and happens to feature aliens, and is one of those films that was made for next to nothing — $15,000! — and yet has proved both a critical and box-office success. Fifteen thousand dollars! How is it possible? I spend that in Waitrose and still have nothing to put together as a meal for supper. How is that possible? I don’t know. It’s frightening. It may even be the most frightening thing in all this.
This is the brainchild of Gareth Edwards, a former BBC TV special-effects editor who devised it, wrote it, directed it, probably wrote the theme music and probably shops in Lidl. As far as I can see, the only significant others on the payroll — if you can call it that — are two actors and a sound man who also, apparently, had the job of scouting the area for locals to play all the other parts.
This, my darlings, is no Avatar. Its plot is as follows: it is set in 2015, six years after a Nasa sample-collecting probe bringing back extraterrestrial organic matter crashed upon re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere, scattering its contents between southern Mexico and the USA. This area has now been declared an ‘infective zone’ as military from both countries wage a fruitless battle against enormous, rapidly reproducing creatures, which, thankfully, just aren’t that scary. They look like dangling Rastafarian hairdos with suckers. They wouldn’t scare anybody bar Gillian McKeith. But — and this is partly why the film mostly works — although they are a bit of a joke, the threat of them doesn’t seem to be. Not scary but, yes, tense. This isn’t about special effects, anyhow. It is about people.
The people are John (Scoot McNairy), a scruffy photo-journalist on assignment in Mexico covering ‘the war’, and Sam (Whitney Able), the young lady he is ordered to escort to a far-off port so she can catch a ferry back to America. There is no script as such. The actors improvise. So they are tentative, just as the dialogue is tentative, but that’s OK. They are, at least, convincingly tentative.
Anyway, Sam’s father owns the big newspaper John works for. Sam’s father speaks to John on the phone and tells him he must get his daughter home safely. We do not know what Sam is doing in this part of the world. We do not know why daddy doesn’t just send a helicopter to pick her up. I doubt this is the way Rupert Murdoch would behave if Elisabeth was in danger from dangling Rastafarian hairdos with suckers. There are actually more plot holes in Monsters than you could shake a stick at, or at least I could shake a stick at. (I have very little upper-body strength; all that Waitrose-ing seems to have made me weak.) Does any of this get in the way? Yes, it does. It’s irritating. But being irritated is not the same as being bored, and I was not bored.
John and Sam embark on their journey. John does not want to escort Sam. Sam does not want to be escorted. If I say ‘African’ and then ‘Queen’ I think you’ll know where it is all heading. There are no ferries — isn’t that always the way? — so, instead, they must cross the infected zone, and journey though a devastated and dangerous landscape where that mournful noise may be a monster, but may just be a cow. (Phew!)
There isn’t much new in Monsters, but it is different from most films of this type in that it rearranges the elements. The aliens are backgrounded. They may not be after what we think they are after. And although the ending is unrestrainedly schmaltzy, I am an unrestrainedly schmaltzy person, and I rather bought it, anyhow.
Is it allegorical? I heard Edwards on the radio recently saying, if it is, it’s an allegory for the war on terror; for America attacking those who might not otherwise attack them. But I think it’s best we skip this. As it is, no one cares anything for the non-whites in this film. The Mexicans, who are in the most danger, and keep getting killed, are just left to get on with it. This is also irritating but, again, the film did hold my attention, and did feel like a special, wonderfully atmospheric achievement. Give it a try. Go on. You’re worth it.