Wednesday, April 8, 2015

What-to-Watch Wednesday: Monsters (2010)

What-to-Watch Wednesday: Monsters (2010)

One of my favorite types of film is one that seems to be functioning within a given genre but then manages to do something unexpected or find a different storytelling angle.  In Monsters, writer/director Gareth Edwards does both by making a film that weaves together elements of alien invasion and action thriller while evoking moments from It Happened One Night.  The result is a unique gem of a film.

The basic plot is simple enough.  It takes place six years after giant alien creatures have landed in northern Mexico.  During that time, the Mexican and American military have worked together to contain and defeat the invading creatures.  An American photojournalist, Andrew Kaulder, is in the middle of the action, covering the events, when he receives a call from his employer asking him to find his wayward daughter and bring her home.  Kaulder finds the young woman, Samantha, in a Mexican hospital, and the two proceed to make their way back to the U.S,

Of course, various events conspire to make the journey home not at all simple.  And, of course, the two bond in the midst of all this adversity.  But, where Monsters really succeeds is by focusing on the two main characters instead of relentless action sequences.  The audience really gets to know who they are and understand the connection they are forming, so when a threat does appear, it is made all the worse because Andrew and Samantha are real people facing a real danger.

Monsters also gathers its strength through an atmosphere of suspense and lingering dread.  We never get a clear view of the aliens, but we certainly see the results of their presence as Andrew and Samantha make their way through war-torn landscapes and ruins.  They could easily be walking through a human war zone if not for the occasional signs warning of extraterrestrial infection.  As these scenes play out, the audience is in a perpetual state of waiting for something to happen while simultaneously trying to imagine what kind of creatures could have caused such devastation.

Made for less than $500,000 (according to Wikipedia), Monsters is almost an art house version of an alien invasion movie.  But, what it lacks in special effects and set pieces, it more than makes up for in strong central performances and style.  Truly, I've seldom seen other alien flicks that are anywhere near as engaging and interesting.

Apparently, there is a big budget sequel, Monsters: Dark Continent, set to be released this May.  I've seen the trailer.  Stick with this one.

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