Shot guerrilla-style in the jungles of South America, Garth Edwards’ “Monsters” features compelling and complex characters, stunning visuals and, yes, giant alien monsters.
Set six years after a NASA space probe carrying alien life forms broke-up over Mexico, “Monsters” creates a realistic and believable world where massive bioluminescent aliens have multiplied and attack human settlements. Unable to control the off-world pests, the U.S. and Mexican governments have quarantined northern Mexico. However, despite military efforts, attacks on nearby towns and cities have become common, every-day occurrences.
Amongst the chaos is Andrew (Scoot McNairy), a professional photographer who’s in Mexico to document the destruction, but shows little sympathy for his subjects – locals who have been uprooted and killed. Desperately trying to get his photos published, Andrew agrees to escort his boss’ daughter, Samantha (Whitney Able), out of the country and back to her waiting fiancée in America.
As expected, the two encounter a few roadblocks, and instead of catching a boat back to the US, Andrew and Samantha must make their way through the quarantine zone. At first, the audiences’ exposure to the creatures is at a distance. Most of the monster attacks take place at night and the CGI holds up well. However, up close and in the sun, the graphics become obvious.
The monster designs aren’t too creative, but it is their behavior that is the most interesting. Instead of organized, technologically advanced aliens, the creatures in “Monsters” are simple, organic animals that recall Steven Spielberg’s dinosaurs more than Ridley Scott’s Alien. In fact, one of the more exciting and tense encounters is reminiscent of the T-Rex scene “Jurassic Park,” when Andrew and Samantha’s convey is attacked at night in the jungle.
Additionally, the film’s natural landscapes are welcome backdrops to the usual urban settings in your typical alien invasion movie. The jungles, lakes and grasslands of South America are breathtaking and appropriately display the impact of both alien and human destruction.
As for the characters, both Andrew and Samantha are complex, flawed and fully realized. They express real and honest emotion in the face of death, and their dialogue is realistic. Their slowly built relationship is believable and makes sense given their circumstances, and by the end of the film, both Andrew and Samantha have learned something from one another and grown as individuals.
Developed with a minimal budget (estimated at under $100,000) and a simple cast of two (the other characters were recruited locals and volunteers), Edwards demonstrates that you don’t need millions of dollars, green screens and high-tech computer graphics to create a compelling and unique sci-fi movie.
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