Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Monsters Are Due

It took me some time to truly appreciate Monsters. For once, I was happy I didn't see it in a theater. If I had, I may not have been able to appreciate its nuances and pace. Basically, it's a monster movie that concentrates on human characters rather big, blaring 3D CGI effects. Writer/director Gareth Edwards spent a lot of time asking himself what would happen if an invasive species from outer space took over a sizable chunk of the planet, in this case the northern half of Mexico.

Six years ago, a space probe came back with samples of an alien lifeform. I think they said it was from the Jovian moon of Europa but it doesn't really matter. What matters is that the probe broke up upon re-entry and spread its cargo all over Mexico. It's unlikely that anything that evolved on any moon or planet in this solar system would be able to live on Earth by gosh, that's what happened and now a good chunk of Mexico is referred to as the Infected Zone. The creatures are the size of 10 story buildings and look like a cross between an octopus and a spider. Anti-immigrationists finally get their wish when a large wall is built along the southern border of the United States to keep the creatures out, something shown to be an act of futility as the movie opens with a creature wandering into a small Texas town.

Meanwhile, south of the border down Mexico way, a American girl named Samantha (Whitney Able) is about to get trapped in Mexico for six months. Her father, a wealthy publisher, orders Andrew Kaulder (played by a fellow whose parents hated him so much that they named him Scoot McNairy), one of his photographers, to escort her to the coast so she can catch one of the last ferries back to America. After that, air and sea travel will be closed for six months due to the creatures migration season. Andrew doesn't really want to do this and, oddly, Samantha doesn't seem all that excited about going home even though she is about to be married.

In the first half of the movie, the creatures exist in the background of our characters' daily lives. South of the Infected Zone, people have adapted and go about the daily business of living as I suppose they would if this actually happened. You see them on television a lot, usually encountering the military, but even so close, they affect Andrew and Samantha in the same way that far off wars affect Americans. Anyway, after failing to get Samantha into bed, Andrew picks up a local girl who steals their passports. This means the last ferry has left without them and the only way home is through the Infected Zone. Samantha barters her engagement ring for guides and armed escorts, not that a couple of Mexicans with AK-47s would do much good against the creatures. On the other hand, the creatures seem to be fairly listless when they show up. It's the humans who look at them and say, "Oh look, something we don't understand. SHOOT INDISCRIMINATELY!"

One of the finest compliments I give to a movie is to call it intelligent science fiction. One advantage of having a low budget means you can't make a Michael Bay film and instead have to rely on your story and characters to move the film along which is what Gareth Edwards does here. His cast of unknowns includes many ordinary Mexicans who know exactly how to go about living the lives of ordinary Mexicans even when they're encountering an alien presence. As for the aliens themselves, I had many questions when the movie was over but so did the characters. How intelligent are they? How dangerous are they really? What do they want? These are questions that Gareth Edwards didn't really intend to answer. Rather, this film shows us a slice of the lives of both the humans and the monsters and we don't really know their ultimate fate after the movie is over.

Sadly, I hear a sequel is being made without Gareth Edwards but that shouldn't stop you from buying or renting Monsters. If you're like me, you'll enjoy it. If you're not, I truly pity you.

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