It’s a pity that this film will almost undoubtedly end up being compared to District 9, because although similar, Monsters is a wonderfully different experience. In writer/director Gareth Edwards feature, a space probe has returned to Earth with an extraterrestrial infection, crashing into the USA. The site quickly becomes overrun by these otherworldly beings, and an Infected Zone is set up, effectively cutting Mexico off from the US for good. In Monsters, we follow two Americans as they try to make their way back to their home country, through the Infected Zone.
In the same way that the significance of segregation in South Africa was explored through the arrival of aliens in District 9, the irony of two Americans enlisting people smugglers to help them cross the border into their home country isn’t lost in Monsters. The two films are remarkably similar in their attempt (and success) in using a fantastical premise to explore real world issues. This is what science fiction is all about.
Whilst the title is Monsters, the film concerns itself, paradoxically, with the humans. The towering extraterrestrials are never far away, but it’s Sam Wynden (Whitney Able) and Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy) that are the focus, as well as the people they meet on their journey. It’s quite an emotional tale, too, as what starts out as an odd-couple dynamic really becomes interesting as they are forced to challenge not only each other but themselves as the landscape becomes more and more hostile.
Edwards has previously worked in visual effects, and it shows. Whilst Monsters is never flashy, the CGI is fantastic. This includes some of the best digital matte paintings I’ve ever seen, and whilst the titular creatures are often hidden in darkness, the end result is spectacular. The cinematography is a triumph also, and manages to keep the action up close and personal, whilst regularly taking a step back to look at the broader picture.
Able and McNairy are fantastic in their respective roles. The film really succeeds on the back of these two wonderfully flawed yet charismatic characters, and taking this arduous journey with them is a joy. It’s strange that they are the only ‘proper’ cast listed in the credits, whereas everyone else is considered a ‘featured extra’. It makes me feel uneasy when one considers the film’s not so hidden subtext about how easily the wealthy, industrialised nations can simply ignore the plight of the millions of faceless, poorer people who live next door.
Coming across as a kind of combination of District 9, Cloverfield and Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, Monsters is a wonderful piece of science fiction, though if you were to go in hoping for some kick arse action, you’d be sorely disappointed. It’s a thoughtful and gripping piece of drama that is hopefully indicative of a future trend of pushing science fiction film beyond mainstream genre constraints. Though it may occasionally deliver its message in a heavy-handed way, it’s a wonderful tale that left me breathless.Rating: