Monsters : an ingenious love story masquerading as a creature feature

Made on the cheap, starring a cast of unknowns, directed by someone most folks have never heard of;   Gareth Edwards' Monsters turns out to be one of the most interesting and original films of the year.

What starts as a science fiction / creature feature soon morphs into an existential love story as we meet world weary photographer, Andrew Kaulder (played with a sort of David Duchovny - like charm by Scoot McNairy) who finds himself saddled with the responsibility of getting his boss's daughter, Whitney Able (Samantha Wynden) out of monster infested Mexico. You see, several years earlier a space probe carrying alien biological material crash landed in Mexico, and soon, giant Lovecraftian beasties began terrorizing the countryside. Considering the subject matter, one would assume we are going to be witnessing a District 9 / Cloverfield affair at this point.  One would be wrong in that assumption.

While Monsters opens with a terrific action sequence, and a glimpse of one of the tentacled leviathan's wreaking havoc, it soon slows way down and morphs into a two person drama that could be taking place with any type of negative situation as the back drop; in fact, it's almost like the alien infestation is secondary to the story.   McNairy and Wynden are so believable and so likable as the star crossed strangers, you can not help but want them to connect, brush off the semi apocalyptic goings on, and set up house together in a safe place.  Furthermore you learn just enough about the two of them (she's about to enter a loveless marriage, and he's a single father who does not get to see his young son as often as he'd like thanks to the boy's vindictive mother) that you understand that they are broken people who just need to connect to another human.

And speaking of connections; that seems to be the name of the game in Monsters:  escape from Mexico back to the states can only be had through a series of convoluted connections with soldiers of fortune and seedy black market types.  Missed phone calls and dropped connections from cell phones add to the drama.  And, most surprisingly, when we finally get to one of the very few scenes that involve the creatures, it becomes clear that the humongous beasts are connecting to each other, possibly mating...two spectacularly huge Cthulhu-like beings glow and pulsate as they do a sort of mating dance above an abandoned gas station, while our hero and heroine stare at this sight, dumbstruck.    And frankly, by the end of the film that's how I felt - dumbstruck.

Monsters is going to alienate a lot of people, especially those who go to it expecting a monster movie.    I do believe, the film makers were really trying to make an honest love story about strangers meeting under dire circumstances and opted to use the alien infestation angle as nothing more than a framing device (kind of like setting a romantic drama during World War II), and for the most part they succeeded.  My advice?  Leave the kids at home, and check out Monsters and see if you don't fall under Gareth Edwards' ingenious spell.  As for the rest of you, well, there's always Sharktopus.


Matt-suzaka said...

Ha, I want to see Sharktopus!!

I have been eagerly anticipating Monster since I first saw the teasers, and I had a felling with the extremely low-budget that it would be a character driven piece. Those are usually my favorite kind, so my anticipation is still at its peak.

Pax Romano said...

Matt, no offense meant - enjoy Sharktopus!!

I was shocked at how much I enjoyed this one - it's the actors, they are perfect in the roles. Really bring a lot of heart to the affair.

Jack Veasey said...

This sounds like something I'd really get into. Thanks for the head's up.

BTW, Sharktopus was fun (mostly).

Pax Romano said...

Jack, I saw a few minutes of Sharktopus during one of the attack scenes and I laughed my arse off.

The Mike said...

Great write-up! Saw this yesterday and had almost the same reaction. I was absolutely fascinated by the journey and how the characters came to relate to each other - the monsters were just an added bonus. Loved it.

Pax Romano said...

The Mike,

I am so glad you enjoyed this. I think this is one of the best films I've seen in some time. So damn unique.

Chad Helder said...

This sounds really cool--I'm interested to see how that pacing plays out and how it sort-of throws a curve ball with audience expectations.