Sunday, June 5, 2011

Monsters (2010)

When it was released late last year, Monsters received a lot of comparisons to District 9, and on the surface it's easy to see why. Both deal with humanity dealing with the presence of aliens on Earth, told from the intimate perspective of a few characters. However, it's there that the comparisons end. Though as a whole Monsters doesn't live up to District 9, the film is a success in its own right, telling a truly human story of survival in the midst of tragedy against the backdrop of an alien invasion.

Years after a space probe crashed in northern Mexico, most of the country has been sealed off as an "infected zone" as a result of the aliens that have surfaced there. Samantha (Whitney Able) is on vacation in Mexico, and photographer Andrew (Scoot McNairy) is tasked by her newspaper-running father to escort her back to the United States before the Navy halts ferry passage. However, a series of misfortunes causes them to miss the last ferry out, and so to reach the US border they have to trek through the Infected Zone, a dangerous task that they may not survive.

The film shows that it's learned a lot in building tension from movies such as Jaws, opting not to show the creatures except in a few scenes peppered throughout (this was mostly due to budget restrictions, since writer/director Gareth Edwards did most of the effects on his laptop, but it pays off overall creatively). There are several scenes that make great use of this tension, particularly in a thrilling scene involving a boat and one of the creatures. Edwards shows great skill as a director and a cinematographer, creating plenty of memorable and moving images of destruction and catastrophe in the wake of the creatures. The film works great as a tale of destruction and survival, drawing great drama from the survival of the human spirit in the wake of unimaginable tragedy.

However, the film's love story doesn't work quite as well. It's not that the budding romance between Samantha and Andrew is bad, per se; the two actors have excellent chemistry and they play their roles well. It's just that it plays out rather predictably, at points feeling like it dropped in right out of a romantic comedy. It's not hokey or aiming for big laughs, it just doesn't play out well. It does, however, allow for a magnificently beautiful scene in the finale, one that makes great use of both the creatures and the leads.

It's unfair to compare Monsters to District 9, because they're two different films with two different kinds of stories to tell. Monsters is a quiet little brilliance; it's not quite a sci-fi masterpiece but it's a great film that's worth checking out. B+

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