Monday, September 1, 2014

Review: Monsters

Describing the movie Monsters as a "monster movie" is like trying to describe Drive as Fast And The Furious only with Ryan Gosling instead of Vin Diesel.  Monsters, as a movie, has more in common to me with Lost In Translation as it does Godzilla or Cloverfield.

While yes, there are moments of action and intensity, it's really not what the movie's about at all.  In fact, you spend most of the movie not even really sure what the "monsters" in Monsters look like.  You know they're big, you know they're intimidating, and you know that they're dangerous enough that the entire northern half of Mexico is now quarantined as the "Infected Zone" and that travel through is pretty much forbidden.  The United States has built a gigantic wall to keep the strange creatures out (one that would not look out of place keeping the Mongols out of China, only taller), while Mexico struggles with fences and regular air strikes whenever one becomes visible, as well as regularly spraying toxic chemicals into the jungles.

But again, it's not really a monster movie so much as it's a story about people trying to get from one side of a dangerous area to another, and seeing how everything changes when something comes along that doesn't fit with how we've constructed the world to be over the past thousand years.  If blue whales suddenly grew legs and started walking around in cities, how would we react?

Some years ago, a probe to Europa brought back life samples.  However, the probe crash-landed in Mexico, and whatever was on board found the area to be rather hospitable to what it needed.  Containment of the new beings has failed, and the Infected Zone continues to spread and grow as man's attempts to keep the Beings at bay barely manage to work.

However, the Beings are only really monsters in that they're completely alien to us.  Strange spidery-squid creatures able to lift cars with ease and fling boats into trees would obviously be terrifying if one wandered into your neighborhood.  There's mention in one part that they don't get aggressive unless attacked.  But if one started mistaking your neighbors for food and knocked over a house, wouldn't you feel like someone should do something about it?

Monsters follows two people on a trip across the Infected Zone.  Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy) is a freelance photographer desperate to get the next best shots of the creatures and knows that his time is limited before the zone moves further south into Mexico, forcing him to leave.  Samantha Wynden (Whitney Able), is the daughter of Andrew's boss, and he becomes tasked (reluctantly) with making sure she gets back to America safely.  An attempt to reach a ferry is beset by complications, until finally the two have no choice but to risk crossing rivers and jungles to get her home.

The two, like most movie couples, at first can't really find a reason to care about the other.  Sure, they spend an evening living it up before she's supposed to board a ferry and leave him behind, but there isn't really anything connecting the two other than the need to get Person A to Point B.  Watching their relationship grow and hearing their conversations really makes us care about them, especially when they wind up trying to find new topics that absently reveal things about themselves that you'd expect your friends to say at some point.

The two also have to increasingly rely on each other, as Andrew has somehow managed to be the only photojournalist in Mexico who doesn't speak any Spanish, and Samantha, who seems to speak it near-fluently, has no understanding of what it might take to get through an area where law is enforced by the people present, not by the big government.

The actors playing the two are both very good, as they manage to play someone who has long built up an immunity to the horrors around him in the name of a paycheck and a naive young woman who is immediately in over her head while showing a strong reluctance to reconnect with her home (for reasons hinted at through the story).  Scoot McNairy I know I've seen in other works, but I think this is the first time I've seen Whitney Able, and I hope to see her in other works soon.

The movie is visually amazing, especially when you consider it was made for under a million dollars.  The entire cast and crew could fit in a single van to move around, and mostly local people were used for a lot of the shots, which adds a more sense of genuine to each shot.  These people aren't going to abandon their homes because these actually are their homes, and you can see them considering what they'd do if a situation like this really did occur to them and their loved ones.

Once I realized that this wasn't going to be a horror film where danger was going to stalk the characters at every turn, I found myself enjoying it a lot more.  It didn't sacrifice character for spectacle, and when you do finally see the Beings towards the end of the film, you realize that basing them at all on how Earth life works is your own mistake.  They're simultaneously hideous creatures and yet extremely beautiful.  The closest things we have to them are only found on the bottom of the sea, but we still know so little about such creatures that to assume these creatures are even aware of us at all unless we attack them is foolish.

The film wasn't a big success in theaters, but I highly recommend watching it.  Past all of the summer blockbusters that care more about CG than the people in the film, this one somehow slipped past everybody's radar and deserves more credit as a great piece of film-making.

(Writer/Editor's note: Yes, I know there's a lot of location errors in the film, including a temple and jungle's proximity to the Texas border, but I honestly didn't care.  The movie pulled me in that much that not even mistakes like that could make me stop enjoying it)

1 comment:

Blogger said...

Searching for the Ultimate Dating Website? Join and find your perfect match.