On DVD: Monsters

We’ve finally reached in age when science fiction doesn’t have to mean action films and where low-budget genre films have become “of interest” to producers and distributors. Although you could hardly call “District 9” a cheap film compared to Gareth Edwards’ debut feature “Monsters,” Neil Blomkamp’s film was much cheaper than the alien movies that came before it and Edwards’ first feature film continues that trend.

An alien invasion film with minimal action is a tough route to travel, but Edwards largely sticks to it. I was expecting hardly any alien presence in the film, but he gives in to our curiosities as sci-fi fans and ultimately the film is better for it.

The premise of “Monsters,” set up by a few title cards of context, is that an alien presence has landed in Mexico, which has since been quarantined to contain the giant octopus-like creatures that have been deemed hostile. Similar to a “28 Days Later,” the film focuses on a microcosm of that event: two characters forced to stick together if they’re to make it back from Mexico to the United States.

It becomes immediately apparent that Edwards has thought his film through in terms of how an alien invasion of this kind would impact people’s lives, especially in such a low-poverty and already troubled area in Mexico. There’s a bit of a commentary on immigration here considering Sam (Whitney Able) and Kaulder (Scoot McNairy) must befriend locals for shelter and pay exorbitant amounts of money to get back to America. That, and the United States has erected a massive wall at the Mexico border. This message is very subtle, however, and not preachy, which keeps the focus on the characters where it belongs.

“Monsters” provides a lot for you to chew on with these subtle points, but a little too much rests on the main characters without much sci-fi action to lean back on. McNairy and Able play likable characters and do so with a very natural style, but Edwards has written them one- dimensional backstories, which makes their characters cut-and-dry in terms of motivation. For example, it’s abundantly clear from the beginning that Sam is not happy to be engaged to this guy we don’t ever meet, but it seems to be the only thing that defines her and her choices and feelings. Her relationship with Kaulder grows very organically in-scene, but their fate becomes painfully obvious from the moment they meet.

Chiefly, “Monsters” is a survival story, a film more interested in how an alien invasion would affect people’s lives on a personal level than how the government would handle the situation or even from a filmmaking standpoint, unconcerned with entertaining its audience. Kaulder and Sam are put in peril and reevaluate their lives often on this journey and must come to terms with the fact that practicality becomes less of a factor in making important decisions when your life is threatened.

Considering that the film operates as science fiction but not in a typical way, “Monsters” definitely leaves you with something to be desired, but it more or less creates a unique flavor from pieces of “Cloverfield,” “28 Days Later” and a bit of “District 9.”

3.5/5 Stars

Written and Directed by Gareth Edwards
Starring: Scoot McNairy, Whitney Able


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