Movie review by Tyson Yates
Monsters is a film that sees two American citizens journeying through the landscape of what has now become an infected Mexico, towards the sanctuary that is the American border. More than slightly altered, a monumental structure referred to as ‘The Wall’ is what separates America from the disruptions and chaos that plague the daily lives of those people south of the border. These problems take the very literal form of Monsters, gigantic alien creatures roaming freely across various parts of Mexico despite the consistent effort of the US military to contain them. Content within the realms of such chaos, the cynical photographer Andrew Caulder (played by Scoot McNairy) soon finds his work disrupted when he is forced to play escort to the composed heiress Samantha Wynden (Whitney Able). In making their way across Mexico, the two face a constant string of challenges resembling the everyday life of a country living in fear and uncertainty on the neglected side of the American border.
Other movies of this genre, mainly those with Hollywood high budgets, take us on the journey from beginning, middle and end although not necessarily in that order. This film however, places us awkwardly in the midst of an event in which details are not made certain beyond the initial stages of where and what. Unlike most ‘monster’ films we have seen, (Godzilla as a prime example), there is no initial info dumping for audiences to overhear, which means our want for a direct explanation is deliberately ignored. We find ourselves thrust so far into an already established story that we meet no one who is in need of being informed to our same degree. Instead we are like vultures, picking strips from the knowledge of our characters and remaining vigilant for the scraps of information we can gather from radio stations, graphitised street signs or passersby. It is by doing this that Monsters ensures that within those inevitable moments of contemplation, where a movie is often judged, we are kept attentive because we, along with the characters, are trying to figure out the next move.
With a few works to his name, Director and Writer of the script Gareth Edwards seems to find a reasonable budget which is reflected by some adequate looking monsters, though sightings of the gargantuan creatures are few and far between which could leave certain viewers feeling betrayed by the promises of such a title and send others searching for an allegory that may not exist. While the presence of the alien species is the driving force of the plot, it is not long before we realise that the focus doesn’t stray from the two main characters, capturing the journey and a relationship that forms between them on the way. This element is something we can recognise in some other recent monster movies (Cloverfield, District 9) that works to portray a documentary-type scenario that allows a more intimate account of events by shifting the focus away from the situation itself and turning the lens towards the characters within it. By using such techniques, the connection between Caulder and Wynden is so central to the story that too much relies on the depth of their relationship which is questionable at times. The little that is exchanged between the characters is few soft spoken lines of mostly general conversation and some nurturing gestures from within long stints of silence. This all works well for the concept of strangers becoming friends, but doesn’t give us what we need to believe that these two strangers eventuate into lovers.
I was one of those viewers chasing the name Monsters as a metaphor but at the risk of having missed something obvious I say we would be hard pressed to find one. The film perhaps touches on more points than it can thoroughly explore, an example being the concept of two Americans losing their passports and needing to figuratively claw their way to the border by sharing fates with the poorer majority of the country’s population. This depth however is short lived with constant reminders of the safety that awaits them at home. One instance in particular is seeing a profound moment of realisation cut short by a swift changing of the topic to ‘something funny’ though this is not the place to discuss imperialist semantics. In all that I have said (swiftly changing topics myself), simple quarrels with some aspects of the narrative, does not lead me to consider this an uninteresting film, just stops it from becoming a great one. I would recommend you to see Monsters while the overall concept of these alternate ‘creature features’ remains refreshing and unpredictable.