SXSW: Aliens Attack America In Monsters

By Josh Tyler 2010-03-16 11:28:21discussion comments
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Monsters is a strange jumble of different styles and ideas, most of which never fully work. It’s Mumblecore meets Apocalypse Now meets Jurassic Park meets Cloverfield, a pretty ambitious mix of influences when you consider they made it on a micro-budget.

It’s set in a near future where alien spores have landed in Mexico, turning most of the country into a game preserver for unfriendly, giant, alien monsters. We follow two Americans trying to get from the south of Mexico, through the “Infected Zone” in the northern half, and back into the United States. The reasons Monsters concocts to send its characters through the infected zone are, at best, half-assed; but not as half-assed as the breain dead political ideology it attempts to shove down its audiences’ collective throat as they travel.

The idea here seems to be to use giant Alien monster infestation as some sort of commentary on United State foreign policy. They lay it on pretty thick, taking America to task on everything from the war to Mexican immigration. The problem is that none of these ideas really fit with what’s going on in the primary, alien-driven storyline, yet they keep right on shoehorning them in. For example, there’s some attempt to blame the aggression of the alien monsters on America’s decision to bomb them. The would-be sympathetic Mexicans our characters encounter seem to intimate that the aliens only attack when the Americans bomb. Of course minutes later the aliens attack and slaughter the very people who’ve been attempting to paint them as peaceful, yet Monsters doesn’t seem to notice and it eventually goes right back to shoving the same dumb-ass political pondering out of the screen as if nothing had happened.

In fact Monsters gets so busy trying to play the America is evil card that it forgets to show any actual alien monsters. The aliens which are, in theory, the only reason this movie exists aren’t seen until the very end of the film, and before that they only make a very brief, foggy cameo. Instead most of the film is spent watching two people hanging out and talking as they travel. Luckily, the actors they hired to play them are pretty good.

Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able are fantastic as two people traveling and learning together, they’re not so great as people who should be scared to death of aliens. But that’s not really their fault, the film just doesn’t take its alien premise very seriously, so why should they? Able and McNairy are so good that you almost won’t mind that the film spends so little time on other-worldly attackers… almost. It’s also incredibly beautiful. Director Gareth Edwards has a brilliant eye for photographing amazing jungle scenery and for photographing Able who is, let’s face it, pretty easy to photograph. Monsters looks amazing, it just needs more monsters. Edwards seems more interested in political commentary and I have the sneaking suspicion that his title is less a reference to the gigantic, twenty-story tall aliens which it spends so much time talking about but rarely showing, and more a reference to these UK filmmaker’s opinion of America and its people.
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