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Monsters is an extraordinary accomplishment for one reason. It showcases effects that would be astonishing in a multi-million dollar budgeted film, but does it with much less, hovering somewhere around the $100,000 range, well above the reported $15,000 (a number debunked by a recent interview I participated in with the director of the film, Gareth Edwards). But regardless of its cost, Monsters is a tremendous cinematic achievement, at least on a technical level.

Years ago, NASA sent a probe into space to study what they thought may be alien life. Upon reentry, it broke apart and scattered over Mexico. Soon after, new forms of life began to appear. The creatures, seemingly hostile to humans, were quarantined off in what was dubbed “The Infected Zone,” which is roughly half the country. Photographer Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy) is one of the unlucky few in the area. He has been sent there to escort his boss’s daughter, Samantha (Whitney Able) back to America, but after some chance occurrences strip them of their ticket home, they are forced to trek their way through “The Infected Zone” where the creatures dwell.

While that synopsis (and its ominous title) may make Monsters sound like a horror movie, it’s not. Like the best George Romero films, Monsters isn’t about the creatures. They merely exist as an outside factor in a story that is largely centered around humans. This is a tale of survival and connection. In fact, it’s more a love story than anything else and you’ll watch intently as Andrew and Samantha grow closer and closer throughout their journey. The bond they form as they wander through a ruined land covered with corpses, both human and otherwise, is touching to watch.

But despite all this talk of monsters, very few actually exist within the film, at least visually. This works much in the same way as Jaws, in that it keeps the monsters hidden as much as possible. It builds the mystery and suspense with only brief glimpses before completely unveiling them towards the climax. However, it works differently here. The feeling of awe and fright you’ll feel initially will be overcome by another emotion, one I hesitate to mention for fear of ruining anything. It’s this smart reversal of the expected that makes Monsters so fresh.

In fact, the most powerful moments in the movie don’t include the monsters at all. It’s the quiet moments that hit the hardest, like a scene over halfway through where the two protagonists, after going through some horrific experiences, climb an old Aztec structure and peer across the landscape where they can see the American border. Emotionally, Monsters works on every level and much of that credit is due to the two leads, who are quite convincing in their roles. While not exactly newcomers (both have had experience in other movies and television shows), they work well together and show considerable talent and chemistry together.

If it must be boiled down to one thing, Monsters is about the struggle of living. That struggle means dealing and coping with things beyond your control. This ideology exists with all living things and, filmically, does not limit itself only to the human characters. As Andrew and Samantha roam the wasteland on their way back to America, they learn new things about themselves as well as the creatures oozing around them. You’ll learn right along with them and by the end, you may be asking yourself who the true monsters really are.

Monsters receives 4/5

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