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Overall Rating
3.06

Awesome: 0%
Worth A Look: 35.29%
Average41.18%
Pretty Bad: 17.65%
Total Crap: 5.88%

2 reviews, 5 user ratings


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Monsters
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by Jay Seaver

"Different aliens trying to cross the border."
4 stars

Movies like "Monsters" often get graded on a curve because of how much they do with relatively little. Gareth Edwards shot it guerrilla-style and had to cram a fair amount of effects shots into a five or six-figure budget, but put together a polished and entertaining movie, and that's well worth celebrating. The end result has its flaws, but to put that achievement in perspective, he's made a better movie than others have with a thousand times the resources.

A probe sent to Europa (a moon of Jupiter) to gather samples crashed in northern Mexico six years ago, and wouldn't you know it, not only is there life on Europa, but it grows to the size of five-story buildings. Photojournalist Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy) is getting pictures of the devastation when his publisher tells him to check on his daughter, Samantha Wynden (Whitney Able), and then get her home safely. However, there's no direct route between Mexico and the U.S. any more - the creatures' migration patterns make the entire northern part of the country unsafe - so they have to make their way to the coast and the last ferry out - and then, when that fails, up the river and over land.

Though it involves gas masks, alien megafauna, and tramping through the jungle under the dubious protection of men with guns, Monsters's formula is as much romance as kaiju horror. It is, when you get down to it, less about trying to find a way to defeat these marauding beasts than about a pair of intelligent people meeting by chance and getting to know each other. They both have things that they're initially reluctant to talk about - Andrew his estrangement from his son, Sam her distance from her family and fiancé - but they've got nothing but time to talk and a simmering attraction despite Sam being engaged and a certain amount of class envy on Andrew's part.

Andrew and Sam are our constants throughout the movie, so it's good that McNairy and Able are mostly up to the task. Their chemistry is initially the sometimes odd, obligatory cordiality of fellow expatriates and remain generally guarded. McNairy is more demonstrative as Kaulder, showing us an armor of bitterness atop a basically good core, although he can still be mercenary and pragmatic in certain circumstances. Able (and the script) make us dig a little more where Sam's concerned. She's more even-tempered, though firm and idealistic underneath, though maybe not as much as she'd like to be - Able wavers nicely between her being a strong and independent person and someone who is used to having someone else take care of things for her.

As an aside, it's worth noting that while Able and McNairy are the only ones credited in the cast, not much of the movie is actually just the two of them; everyone else is credited as a "featured extra". By and large, that's locals whom Edwards roped into saying a few lines on location, and some of them, such as the ticket-seller at the ferry or some of the "coyotes" helping Andrew and Sam cross probably should be credited as performers; those are significant roles that they mostly do pretty well in. They do good work in helping sell the movie's world.

Selling the world is what Edwards does very well. In addition to writing and directing, he also handles cinematography, production design, and visual effects, and he's a whiz at adding just enough signage and detail to the background to sell us on a situation where the creatures and the futile efforts of Mexico the United States to contain or exterminate them have become something that people just live with. We're given the chance to extract as much backstory as we need or want but not burdened with exposition, and he's clearly thought enough about the creatures' life-cycle that what we see holds together and doesn't seem specifically designed to menace the characters (although it doesn't explain how these necessarily aquatic Cthulhoid aliens could grow to such size in Earth's seven-times-Europan-standard gravity and survive on land). The digital effects, though not always perfect, are fairly convincing.

That's to be expected; Edwards is a visual effects artist by trade. His writing, perhaps, could use a little work. While the script does a good job of saving the visual effects budget for when it really counts without making it seem artificial, we do sometimes find ourselves thinking that for a movie named "Monsters", it's been a while since we saw a giant amphibious octopus, especially since the title doesn't have a double meaning a la Predators. He seems to be trying to make a point about American immigration issues, what with the giant wall being erected at the Mexican border, but can't quite make the analogy work (and looking at those two statements next to each other, I imagine he must be annoyed that the title "Aliens" was taken). The same for the last sequence of the movie; though I must be vague to avoid spoilers, it's clear that we're meant to see two situations as parallel, but it's not quite there.

Those script problems deflate the movie a little; it winds up not being the really clever movie Edwards was aiming to make. It's still plenty heartfelt, and impressively produced even if one doesn't consider the relatively small coin spent on it. At the very least, it will be interesting to see what Edwards can do when he's not shooting without permission or margin for error.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=20309&reviewer=371
originally posted: 11/09/10 08:37:29
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2010 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Los Angeles Film Festival For more in the 2010 Los Angeles Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Astana International Action Film Festival For more in the 2010 Astana International Action Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

7/19/13 Marty Script and acting each has its strong/weak moments. Directing resourceful and crafty 3 stars
7/21/12 Sean Harrison Too much of an Anti-American propaganda film. 2 stars
11/04/11 hurdygurdy man WRONG 1 stars
11/22/10 Rob sfx: great. 2 stars
11/01/10 M they really should rename the title and marketing 2 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  29-Oct-2010 (R)
  DVD: 01-Feb-2011

UK
  N/A

Australia
  29-Oct-2010
  DVD: 01-Feb-2011


Directed by
  Gareth Edwards

Written by
  Gareth Edwards

Cast
  Scoot McNairym
  Whitney Able



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