Monsters

27 Nov

Director: Gareth Edwards (2010)

Monsters starts like oh too many science fiction films, with a space probe crash landing in Mexico, that interesting pseudo no-mans land, far enough away from America to allow for sufficient political allegories but close enough for those allegories to hit home and make us wonder, perhaps this could happen to us.

As it happens, an alien life form came back with space probe and is now rife along the Mexico-US border leading to the quarantine of Northern Mexico. Armed forces patrol in night vision through the jungle, keeping what appears to be humongous tentacled creatures in line – namely out of the US, thankfully the government have constructed a Hoover Damn style wall stopping the uninvited aliens out of their country. (Spot the allegory yet?)

We meet Andrew, a young photojournalist played by everyone’s favourite awkward yet strangely attractive indie boy, Scoot McNairy (In Search of a Midnight Kiss), on a mission to rescue his boss’ daughter, Samantha (Whitney Able) from danger in Mexico and get her over the border into the US. All seems to be going well as they hop on a train to the border. That is until they find out the line has been destroyed, forcing them to disembark and thankfully find a kindly family in the forest to shelter with for the night while they figure out how they can make their escape. After discovering ticket prices at the ferry port have been subjected to some startling inflation rates and an unfortunate passport incident after an impromptu night of passion, it looks like they are going to have to overland it, bartering Samantha’s engagement ring to get them an escort through the infected zone to the border. Yeah, Samantha is engaged, despite the inevitable sexual chemistry between our protagonists but the ease with which she sheds the ring so early on makes it clear she ain’t all that bothered and could be in the market for a skinny indie boy alongside her ticket home.

Famed for its astonishingly low budget of only $500,000, Monsters’ low-fi approach to modern science fiction avoids the usual ‘hand-held’ techniques often used to denote low budget, instead opting for more thoughtful camera work, almost reminiscent of the photojournalism that pays Andrew’s rent. Edwards’ footage of Mexico is stunning, capturing the grit yet the beauty of the country and its people with touching accuracy, particularly in the village’s makeshift chapels devoted to their lost idols killed by creatures. It is footage like this, alongside the ramshackle armed checkpoints that ring all too true with anyone who has seen the roadside memorials in Latin America or likewise found themselves face to face with armed border guards and made to feel like an alien.

One of my favourite aspects about Monsters is perhaps also the thing that many people will not like about it. Transposing the screenwriting of an indie romance with the action of a science fiction, Edwards has created a new take on the alien movie – and also romance within alien movies. This isn’t a frantic ‘we’re about to die, let’s get on each other’ relationship that we have been led to believe goes hand in hand with alien domination. This seems more of a gradual realisation.

Yes it is a little bit twee, and not all that convincing in parts, not helped by your groans of despair at the end, but for me this is forgivable considering the directorial bravery shown by Edwards in pushing aside all templates for both genres. The final seconds of the film, which admittedly I did not understand the first time I watched this, bring us back to that apocalyptic and hopeless world we saw at the beginning. If we view Monsters as a film within a film, we must also recognise that only one ending in this dichotomy can be the happy one – it’s up to you which ending you choose to see first.

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