Monsters: A “Soft” Monster Movie

There have been a few unique monster movies in recent years. The Host, Cloverfield, and Gooby come to mind. Now Monsters, an “indie,” comes out of left field. Shot on a meager budget (less than $500,000) on location in Mexico, Costa Rica, and Guatemala, Monsters is a testament to what can be accomplished with limited resources by a determined and creative filmmaker. Dashing Brit Gareth Edwards not only wrote and directed Monsters, he also storyboarded and filmed the entire thing. And when he was done with that, he created all of the impressive special effects using Adobe. The result is a fresh approach to the genre — one light on exploitation and that focuses more on relationships and politics.

In the not too distant future, a NASA probe lands near the U.S.-Mexico border. This spreads alien life throughout the region, forcing a quarantine of half of Mexico, now known as the Infected Zone. The U.S. throws up an enormous wall on the border to keep the aliens inside Mexico and out of America. The U.S. military conducts expensive bombing of areas in hopes of destroying these aliens that may or may not be a threat. Sound familiar, nudge, nudge? A brash, young photojournalist named Andrew is assigned by his wealthy boss to bring his daughter, Samantha, back into the U.S. Their journey back to the States takes them through the Infected Zone by foot, boat, and, finally, by U.S. military transport. It’s a treacherous road the whole way but that does nothing to thwart the blossoming romance between our travelers. Miraculously, the romantic plot manages to avoid cliche in the hands of Edwards.

During their journey, we see glimpses of the monsters and hear them moaning woefully in the night. Yeah, they sound sad. You’d be bummed too if you just wanted to coexist but people where flinging missiles at you all the time. There is, in fact, a strong vibe of melancholy throughout the entire film. From the beautiful shots of the landscape to the dialogue between Andrew and Samantha. Even when they get to spend a night partying in Mexico it’s like being in the doldrums. No one is happy with their situation: not Andrew, not Samantha, and certainly not the monsters.

One thing to be happy about is the design of the monsters. They’re pulled right out of the pages of Lovecraft with squid-like attributes nodding towards Cthulhu. They disperse a toxic gas when killed, hence the popular use of gas masks. Godzilla, Mothra, and that Coverfield thingy may be bigger and more ferocious than the beasts in Monsters, but these guys have more personality. They’re like jaded hipster monsters.

It’s Edward’s low-key approach to the genre that holds your attention throughout the film. It’s not necessarily suspense that grips us — we know there are monsters in the jungle, but we never really feel threatened by them — it’s the film’s unconventional way at looking at the human condition and relationships. Did that sound corny and cliche? My bad. But if you’re looking for something different and seriously original, check out Monsters.