February 1, 2011 (U.S. DVD)
Whitney Able as Samantha Wynden
Scoot McNairy as Andrew Kaulder
Six years ago evidence was discovered suggesting alien life in our solar system. NASA sent a probe to collect samples of the discovery, but there was an accident and the returning probe crashed upon reentry over Central America. An entire section of Mexico became the “Infected Zone” as the aliens took root and multiplied.
Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy) is a photographer looking for a $50,000 shot south of the Infected Zone – ideally of one of the monsters alive. His boss has another assignment for him though – find the owner’s daughter, Samantha (Whitney Able) and get her out of the area and back behind the walls of safety protecting the United States.
Andrew and Samantha must brave the Infected Zone to get to safety, avoiding being killed by the huge Squid-looking creatures that roam the night.
Monsters is a great monster movie because it is not really a monster movie. Instead it takes a hard look at the aftermath of an alien invasion when enough time has passed for people to be accustomed to the reality of a quarantined segment of the world with military fighters regularly bombing and poisoning the extraterrestrial inhabitants. People around the globe watch the proceedings with great interest and sympathy for those affected, but not with disbelief or shock – much in the way a suburbanite might watch the aftermath of a natural disaster half way across the world on CNN.
The vast majority of the film takes place in Mexico, and other than Able and McNairy almost all of the performers are local people behaving in their normal ways rather than actors. The effect is one of pure realism and a level of acceptance of the dire circumstances that would be hard to fake. Life can be difficult and challenging in the less developed areas of Mexico already, and for many this is just one more thing. It’s a big deal, but not such a big deal.
Both Able and McNairy are perfect in their roles, the sheltered young woman trying to live up to her family’s big-money expectations and the screw-up vagabond photographer. They see in each other the life they dream about living themselves, but also learn that the grass isn’t always quite as green on the other side of the fence as they’d imagined. There is not a single performance in this film that is not 100% real and honest.
The effects in Monsters are outstanding, partly because there was no attempt to shove them down the audience’s throat. In contrast to another recent monster movie, Cloverfield, this film did not allow for slight glimpses of a creature leading to a climactic viewing of the thing, but rather allows the audience to see them as needed pretty early on. The alien creatures were not really the point of the film, but rather the dangerous situation surrounding the quest for the border.
Regarding the sets and location, it is difficult to tell what was actually real and what was digitally created. The creatures are extremely destructive when they come to call, and the wake of their arrival looks similar to television images of a trailer park post-tornado. This film was either shot on location in an actual disaster zone, has sets that are masterful, or has some of the best CGI work ever. It’s likely a combination of these things come together to create an ideal tone.
If a scenario such as the one depicted in Monsters were to actually occur, it is reasonable to imagine that it would occur just the way the film presents. No hand-to-hand combats with crazy aliens, no miraculous arrivals of knights in shining armor – just a real struggle to pass unimaginably dangerous territory aided by people who are no strangers to hardship. This film holds full attention for the entire 99 minute run time and doesn’t let the audience down once from beginning to end.
This is one of the best movies to come out in a while, and demonstrates that horror can sometimes have the biggest impact when the story is not really about the villains at all.