Monsters Directed by: Gareth Edwards Cast: Scoot McNairy, Whitney Able Running Time: 1 hr 35 mins Rating: R Release Date: November 12, 2010
PLOT: Two people are forced to cross through the "infected zone", which is inhabited by alien monsters, to make it to the U.S. border to safety.
WHO'S IT FOR? Right off the bat, horror fans will be disappointed. This is for fans of attempted existential sci-fi and thinly veiled politics. Fans of District 9 may be interested to see how a smaller film tackles similar subject matter.
EXPECTATIONS: Well, the trailer for seemed pretty promising, so I had high hopes. I was expecting part action and horror thriller with equal parts thought provoking drama. Some have written this off as a District 9 rip off, but Monsters deserves more credit than that.
Scoot McNairy as Andrew: This movie relies on its two leads to carry the film. Unfortunately for the audience, one of them is almost unbearable. Andrew is the douchebag kid from high school who called his camera his "viewfinder into the human spirit" all grown up. he cares nothing about those around him and seems willing to sacrifice just about any morals, standards, or laws for his art. At several points it seriously seems like Andrew may have Asperger's because there's no way he could think that his behavior is socially acceptable. Every so often he comes through in times of need, but not often enough to make it count. Score: 5
Whitney Able as Sam: Sam is certainly the more likable of the two. She takes the whole "daddy's little girl" angle and makes it sweet and innocent, but uniquely her own. Able proves that she's a capable actress beyond her cuteness and pixie haircut, but is never given much of any opportunity to shine. Instead, she's reduced to caricatures in scenes that should be more emotionally powerful. It's difficult to tell if that falls on Able's shoulders or if it's the fault of the script. With only two main characters and neither very memorable, all signs point to the script. Either way, she's a pleasure to watch in an otherwise virtually uninhabitable role. Score: 6
TALKING: As a kid, I remember in elementary school, the teacher would always say to the class, "Show, don't tell." It's difficult to believe in a distinctly visual medium, but somebody should have imparted those words of wisdom to Gareth Edwards. There are moments where he places the most clunky expositional dialogue that seriously took me out of the moment. Other times, there were sweet little nothings whispered between the two leads that seemed so natural and unrehearsed. It's difficult to bounce between the two, but for the majority of its running time, Monsters does just that. Score: 5
SIGHTS: This is where excels. Edwards seems to have such a great command of the scenery that surrounds him. There's this beautiful relationship between the natural and the unnatural as the camera pans the lush landscape of algae-covered boats in the tree tops of the Central American jungle. It's this connection between the tragedy and the beauty of decay that helps sell this movie's message. In the scenes with the titular monsters, the creatures are visually impressive, but take up too much screen time in certain scenes. Someone would do well to remind Edwards that sometimes less is more. Score: 8
SOUNDS: In terms of music, there's very little. There's a faint score, which is oddly reminiscent of Phillip Glass. It doesn't add much, but it's a nice change of pace from the sound effects, which are quite a different story. I understand that sound plays a vital role in creating tension, but the juxtaposition between, what sounds like a Sounds of the Rainforest sleep machine from Sharper Image and the hellish squeals of the creatures is a little too much. It's piercing, which is effective the first couple times, but quickly grows old. Score: 7
BEST SCENE: The montage of Andrew and Sam roaming the streets of Mexico which quickly comes to an end as they see the thousands mourning their lost loved ones is the kind of subtlety and emotional sincerity that Monsters should have used more. It's spontaneous, but more importantly, it's authentic.
ENDING: The end is, well, the beginning. The film bookends itself so you have an idea of what you're getting into as soon as the movie opens, but there's no real closure. Instead, it feels like ti should have ended with the avant garde sci-fi Calvin Klein ad as Andrew and Sam are torn apart.
QUESTIONS: What exactly is Gareth Edwards point? I can't tell his political persuasion, but I think I've got a handle on it, but then he just sort of drops politics for a tired love story. Was there a reason we were shown the babies? Were those crazy land squid thingies doing it at the end or what? Most of the last 20 minutes of the movie are clouded by unanswered questions.
REWATCHABILITY: As much as it pains me to say it, this is the kind of movie that almost requires a second viewing. I may not be happy about it, but yeah, I'd probably watch it again to see if that ending made any more sense.
Monsters is a noble effort from director Gareth Edwards. Unfortunately, nobility has little to do with watchability. While I don't feel that this movie deserves the comparison to District 9, which was enjoyable but heavy handed, Monsters suffers a very different problem. It never seems to be entirely sure of what it would like to say.
This is a problem not only in its message, but with its script as a whole. The characters seem to fluctuate between one extreme and another. At one moment Sam is offended that Andrew views her as a "daddy's little girl" and at other moments, she's whimpering for protection. Still, that's better than Andrew's one dimension. The minor changes that both characters undergo are not only inconsistent, but unbelievable.
Still, Monsters does succeed on a strictly visual level. If for no other reason, I do recommend seeing Monsters for its visual beauty. This isn't to say that it's all bad except the visuals. It's just that the visuals are the most redeeming feature of the film which at other times struggles with what it wants to be.
FINAL SCORE: 6/10