Written and directed by Gareth Edwards, starring Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able, 94 minutes, rated R.
By our guest blogger, Joel Crabtree
Gareth Edwards’ debut feature film, “Monsters,” does the nearly impossible job of finding humanity in a world seemingly void of such a thing -- a world that should feel so distant from our own reality, yet seems to mirror it with frightening accuracy.
The backdrop of “Monsters,” ironically enough, are the monsters -- creatures who have developed over six years after a NASA probe sent to collect alien life form samples crashed over Mexico.
The creatures, squidlike land- and water-dwellers that stand about 100 meters tall, primarily belong in the film’s background, revealed mostly through television and in tales from the locals. The story of “Monsters” belongs to Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy), a photojournalist looking to capture tragedy with his camera, and his boss’s daughter, Samantha Wynden (Whitney Able).
Andrew’s off-screen employer forces the two together, coercing the photographer into a promise of getting his daughter to the U.S. border safely. The two, at first reluctant to be paired, slowly open up, dropping their guard and putting their personal lives on display for one another. Andrew and Samantha find true companionship under the most unlikely circumstances, and the movie is at its best when we get lost in their interactions, much of which were improvised. McNairy and Able have an undeniable chemistry -- although you would hope so, considering they are husband and wife in real life.
After a careless night of drinking, Andrew is robbed of his and Samantha’s passports, and trekking through the infected zone becomes the couple’s only option into the United States.
As it strives for authenticity amid a surreal setup, “Monsters” joins the ranks of what could be defined as a new wave of organic sci-fi or monster films, alongside “28 Days Later,” “Cloverfield” and “District 9.” But that’s not to say that “Monsters” doesn’t stand on its own two feet (or more like a dozen tentacles). It does.
By keeping its two main characters in the forefront and keeping the monsters as an ever-present threat looming throughout the scenery -- in signs, graffiti murals, maps and on the news -- “Monsters” subtly generates a post-apocalyptic uncertainty. The film’s panoramic Mexican landscape is turned into a potential powder keg as U.S. military aircraft zip in and out of nearly every frame, on their way to merely irritate the problem, not to solve it. But the film wisely refrains from showing any military action. It’s pertinent to the world Andrew and Samantha live in, but not to their story.
There are undercurrents of political and social commentaries within “Monsters,” placing the U.S.-Mexican border as the driving force behind the film’s past and present events. There also is discussion of the unstoppable force known as nature, and a title that is open to endless interpretation. But at its heart, “Monsters” is simply about two people stumbling upon each other and trying to make it through a crazy, crazy world. That is something anyone can relate to.