Monsters (2010) ☆☆☆ (3/4) : The world after the invasion of monsters

 The main strength of “Monsters” lies in how it shows its idea to us. It has an interesting premise and presents its world developed from it in a quite convincing approach that reminds me of “District 9”, a well-liked SF movie released in last year. We will see an alternative world that where the life goes as usual except the accidental visitors from outer spaces, and it gives us some interesting social commentaries on our real world along with decent CGIs. Although there are several weaknesses that cannot be overlooked, the movie diligently jumps over many of its hurdles and I respected that even during my first insipid viewing.

 And it grows on me after the second viewing. I have to admit that I felt cold to the movie during the first watching for several reasons(I will talk about them later) even though I admired how the director Gareth Edwards develops his simple idea into the world felt real to me. However, after disastrous viewing experience with recent SF garbage named “Skyline”, another movie associated with the invasion from the outer space, I seriously reconsidered my opinion again. Not long after that misfortune, I watched “Monsters” again(in HD), and I discovered how this small movie handles its materials well even when faced with its limits. I found myself liking its world more than before.

 Many reviews have compared the movie to “District 9” or “Cloverfield”, but it belongs to different territory. This is not a blockbuster SF movie; this is an independent movie that happens to be a SF movie. Its budget was around half million dollar, the production crew mainly consisted of only 7 people(including two lead actors and Edwards who also worked as a cinematographer), nearly all supporting actors were the non-professionals instantly hired right on the locations, and considerable amount of its post-production was done in the director’s bedroom later. The movie is closer to “Paranormal Activity” than two SF movies previously mentioned.

 The movie informs us briefly about its big picture before the opening sequence. Six years ago, it was discovered that there was the possibility of the alien life forms in some area of the solar system. A space probe was subsequently sent there for acquiring the samples for confirming it, but, unfortunately, the returning space probe was crashed down in US-Mexico border region during re-entry, and that was how all the troubles began. Not so long after the crash, alien life forms came out of the probe, and they quickly spread around the area.

 As a consequence, northern part of Mexico was soon quarantined by US and Mexico military. The big wall was built around Mexico-US border for blocking aliens. Nothing is changed much after six years even with their drastic measures. There are always the reports on TV about endless night battles between those humongous aliens and US/Mexico military. People protest about the collateral damages caused by the conflicts and mourn for the victims. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

 Despite such a big change, people on the earth continue their life after that incident of the century. Edwards shot his movie entirely on the locations in Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Texas. The world shown in the movie is as real and vivid as ours. Small props like gas masks, road signs, warning signs, TV reports, and extra CGIs help its verisimilitude. Edwards decided to depend on the improvisations from his actors instead of using a prepared screenplay from him, and he gave them the situations with short descriptions and asked them to fill the blanks. Thanks to the spontaneity resulted from this approach, we come to believe that what we see is the real world, and we also believe the people in it. This is a slice of, uh, parallel life in Central America.

  The characters the movie is interested in are Andrew(Scoot McNairy) and Samantha(Whitney Able). Andrew is a photojournalist, and he is instructed by his employer to bring Samantha, the employer’s daughter, from Mexico to home. After meeting each other in the hospital in San Jose, they take a northbound train to the port where they can ride in a ferry. They manage to arrive at the port, but they have a problem in the morning of departing day, so they have only option – going through the quarantined area to get to the border.

 They hire some people who can take them across the dangerous area. They go through the checkpoint. The boat carries them along the quiet river with unseen menace. They go through the forest where the sound of monsters can be heard from time to time. Like “Jaws”, “Monsters” knows “less is more”; we only hear their sound or see parts of them in the dark in most cases, and these are effective enough to inspire our anxiety. By using CGIs for creating weird sights, Edwards imbues these moments with ominous atmosphere, and the characters’ journey sometimes looks like the cross between Joseph Conrad and Graham Greene. When they arrive at US area, its barren sight evokes of that of New Orleans after Katrina.

 Above all, this is a monster flick, Edwards eventually delivers what we wait for near the end. I have to admit that CGI plainly reveals the limits in the production, but the “climax” sequence is awe-inspiring filled with eerie feelings. The monsters, looking like octopus, look freakish, but they have their own elegance. They are not much different from any other animals on the earth. They just want to lead their life while looking for their food(no, it is not what you think). And they do not like to be provoked – we all know how angry the animals become when they are provoked.

 While I liked its world, I have to point out that there are several things that I did not like and still do not. While the movie trudged along its weak plot toward the north, sometimes I lost my interest during the first watching. The narrative lags during the second half especially after that fearful night scene. Furthermore, the story constantly felt like constrained throughout the movie even I was well aware of its limits. Eventually it felt more like a hollow stunt of stretching its idea into a feature-length story.

  The second viewing helped me a lot in changing my opinion. It strengthened its strong points and covered its major weakness. The plot still shows its artifact sides, but the chemistry between two actors are small but palpable(They had a relationship then, but now they’re married), and the movie wisely does not force them into a typical romantic plot although it dabbles with it for some time. They are reluctant people getting to know each other in their journey, and that’s enough for me. And the ending is more resonant because I know what happens in that chaotic opening sequence.

  “Monsters” is good not only because it overcomes its limits but also because it manages to be an interesting SF movie on its own. They spent around 10 million dollar with “Skyline” with one idea, and what we got is no more than a pointless(and literally brainless) presentation from CGI company. “Monsters” was made with only a twentieth of it, but the director and the crew put lot of efforts and skills, and the end product is, if not wholly satisfying, interesting enough to make me decide to give it a second chance. Now that’s called efficiency.

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1 Response to Monsters (2010) ☆☆☆ (3/4) : The world after the invasion of monsters

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