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Review: Monsters (2010)

Oct. 21, 2010by: Eric Walkuski

PLOT: A weary photojournalist is charged with transporting his boss's daughter across "the infected zone" - a vast chunk of the US/Mexico border that inhabits extraterrestrial creatures brought back from a destroyed space probe six year ago. During their journey, they'll learn more about the aliens, Mexico, Mexicans... and of course, each other.

REVIEW: How much should a film be judged by its budget? The answer, of course, is it shouldn't be judged by its budget at all. Yet it's tempting in the case of MONSTERS, which reportedly cost around $5,000 (give or take) to produce and certainly impresses in a major way on that level. The trouble is, that's practically the only level it impresses on.

You know how we're always complaining about Hollywood, how it doesn't tell enough original stories? Well, that definitely extends to the indies too. How many tepid, bittersweet love stories can we sit through? How many pixieish ingénues must we find endearing? How many more sardonic dudes stuck in arrested development have to be tolerated? MONSTERS, for all the hype comparing it to DISTRICT 9, is really more about these tiresome indie troupes we've come to know and - in my case - detest. Now, it indeed has the advantage of being set against an unusual backdrop for this kind of movie, and the threat of otherworldly violence makes things slightly more involving, but for the most part, it's just another low-budget romance.

Director Gareth Edwards deserves a lot of credit, don't get me wrong. Much has gone into the details of MONSTERS' world; a world wherein a large portion of the Mexican/US border is inhabited by alien creatures brought back from outer space due to a space probe's disastrous re-entry into the atmosphere. The subtle planting of a "DANGER" sign, the weird details of graffiti depicting a creature attack, the various vehicles we see lodged in the trees; Edwards is careful to make it this place seem lived in, and we believe that the events they say transpired actually did transpire... But that's just background for Edward's love story, which isn't nearly as deep as he thinks it is. Mostly, we just end up focusing on the "how did he do that?" factor - I would have preferred watching it with audio commentary...

As I alluded to earlier, Kaulder (Scoot McNairy) and Sam (Whitney Able) are characters we've seen before. She's a rich girl slumming it in a foreign country, engaged to a guy she doesn't love. He's disenchanted and bitter, a "just doing my job" type who has a chink in his cynical armor in the form of a son he's not allowed to see. He's sour, she's sweet, and they're certain to fall in love. Their road trip will be one rife with sexual tension, make-cute dialogue and danger... Well, maybe not danger so much. That's the oddest thing about MONSTERS - a bulk of the movie takes place in the "infected" zone, where a creepy-crawly alien can snag you at any given moment... but the characters never seem all that concerned. They're cuddling next to each other catchin' some shut-eye when realistically they should be thinking, "Holy f*cking shit, I'm in the infected zone! There are aliens everywhere! Aliens!!!"

Perhaps it's because so little happens to them. That's what's so frustrating about Edwards' film; he doesn't need money to create tension, he just needs to want to make us uneasy. Either he doesn't at all, or he is trying and it's really, really, really subtle. Being a lover of genre films of all shapes and sizes, I was eager to further delve into this strange reality Edwards sets up, where you need armed commandos to help you navigate the eerie terrain, and a wrong turn can mean coming face-to-face with a monster. Disappointing, then, to experience a trip as leisurely as a three hour drive to grandma's house...

RATING: 5/10

Extra Tidbit: MONSTERS opens theatrically on October 29th.

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