Movie Review: Monsters (2010)

If there’s one film in 2010 which has an obviously misleading title, it is definitely this movie. The word “monsters” conjures up images which are frightful and terrifying, but viewing this film may actually be disappointing for the most part.

The story is basically about a photojournalist sent to Mexico to babysit his boss’s daughter and assist her in getting back to the US. This takes place at a time when there is a barrier that had been set in place to contain the ‘creatures’ that have evolved from a plane that crashed in Central America carrying samples of alien life.

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The plot thickens when the circumstances force the lead characters to tread the “infected zone” in Mexico – the enclosed area supposed to be inhabited by alien creatures – in order to finally set foot in ‘safe’ US territory. A love angle sub-plot is also injected in the story to spice up the manner which this narrative unfolds.

This film is said to have been created with a low budget, from the actors, to the set, to the special effects. This Gareth Edwards’ directorial debut film had a cast and crew of only 5 people – believe it or not. On a sad note however, it seems that not much time was devoted to developing the story because there is not much substance to start with. Not that it is a predictable or the usual run-of-the-mill alien chronicle or an actual based-on-a-true-story personal close encounter with an extraterrestrial.

It has a simple plot about humans trying to cross a territory where unknown “creatures” abound, although mysteriously, only the Mexicans are harmed and not the lead American characters. Even at the gasoline station where Sam and Andrew get to see 2 aliens up close, the main characters are left unharmed and the creatures just walk away after doing some kind of mating ritual.

Director Gareth Edwards makes use of black and white footage in the beginning of the film, which at the end of the movie, is revealed as actually what happens after the lead characters are rescued by American soldiers from the gasoline station they sited nearest the Mexican border. What happens next is supposed to be a flashback of Sam and Andrew’s story.

The production design is convincing. The destruction and deaths related to the creatures are overtly manifested with the uniformed soldiers, the fighter planes soaring the skies, the tanks roaming the city, the destroyed buildings, ruined cars dumped on trees, dead people sprawled on the road, the deserted towns and cleared roads among others.

In sailing the lake and crossing the forest en route to the US, Sam and Andrew’s first encounter with the aliens are equally as spooky, and their escorts, who, despite being experts in these areas, surprisingly failed to protect themselves, leaving the lead characters on their own.

Most of the encounters with aliens take place at night – perhaps to add more drama and evoke fear among the viewers. The eggs lain by the creatures on the trees is one fascinating site to behold because of their luminosity as a response to flickering light, although the prospects are just sickening, if one thinks of the possibilities of all those eggs hatching and becoming full-grown octopus-like creatures in the near future.

The hues utilized in this movie are also varied, and is one aspect which makes this interesting. There are browns and yellows (in the hotel room and in the Mexican kiosks), greens and blacks (in the forest and the lake) and the other scenes made use of the regular normal hues.

The sound element also adds to the scariness of the movie. The creature made this particularly horrifying sound which is certainly unlike any sound, but is similar to an elephant’s squeal but somehow contained or coming from a deeper source. It also makes this fast clicking sound – kind of creaky, but very alien-like – which will certainly make one wonder what the monster will do next.

Cinematography in this film is excellent. A variety of shots, angles and different types of framing were used to enhance the storyline. The director made use of extreme wide shots, long shots, medium shots, close ups, over the shoulder shots, etc. There were extreme close-ups of funeral flowers, candles and portraits of the victims of this disaster. Some scenes had great views like the sunrise while Sam and Andrew were sailing across the lake – this evoked the feeling of tranquility and peace within.

However, this feeling is immediately cut short since it is contrasted with the images of immovable rusting ships on the river banks, with all the indications of carnage/massacre that just recently took place. There was also a variation of animate and inanimate subjects captures in the video, and camera angles were mostly eye level, although there were high and low-angle shots as well. The framing was first-rate as balance was evident in majority of the shots taken.

The actors in the movie also did well with the portrayal of their respective roles. Sam, as the rich daughter, did well in playing the part of soon-to-be-married lady pushing off the advances made by Andrew, the photo-journalist who was an employee in the publishing company owned by her father. Andrew on the other hand could have done better in putting more emotions into his acting. The man selling the ferry tickets did a significantly better job than he did.

Despite being classified as a sci-fi / horror flick, Monsters does not quite hit the mark on either of these two genres. The sci-fi part may have been because of the fictitious story which is based on Science, since it is a creature, a monstrosity, and it evolved from alien samples. Still, due to the lack of exposure of these monsters – which appear in only about less than 10% of the film – it is even quite difficult to imagine these creatures.

There are also a lot of questions these creatures raise like what do they feed on, what they do with humans, how can they be killed, etc. It is not really a horror flick because the monsters are just huge, that’s it. The monstrosity is what makes it extraordinary and formidable. They were not even shown coiling their tentacles on people or directly harming a person. There is some element of suspense definitely, but not really horror.

It sometimes even borders on confusion because the creature was shown to have a lot of tentacles when they saw the monster in the river. However, the next time around, it had legs like that of a spider; hence, the viewer is left in a quandary. In the next scene, the pick-up truck in front of them (Sam and Andrew in the van) is pulled up by tentacles or what appear to be giant tree vines. The only justification for this is perhaps there were varied alien species and distinguishing one from the other can be difficult.

The first half of the movie is quite slow and boring where the viewer is wont to ask “So where are the monsters?” The pacing of the movie only gets pumped up during the 2nd half of the film when the creature makes its first appearance to the lead characters in the river, while Sam and Andrew were being transported to their destination.

Another question that needs to be raised is the use of the gas mask. Initially, it seemed like the gas mask was a necessity in travelling the so-called “infected zone”. However, the lead characters are shown without gas masks and their escorts do not even provide them with gas masks as they get to face the creature the second time. This is one question that was never answered in the film. Was it just an added prop to make the “alien invasion” more convincing?

It is said that much of the special effects in this film were done through the use of computers. The director himself, Gareth Edwards, was directly responsible in creating the special effects used in this motion picture. The Monsters in this film were actually designed by Edwards through the use of Adobe Creative Suite.

Edwards designed “tentacled bioluminescent aliens using images of deep sea fish and animating them with the modeling software 3ds Max” (Kohn, 1). Gareth Edwards is a very talented individual and this is not the first time that he did the special effects for a film. He has a host of other films – documentaries in particular – where he has applied this talent for visual effects, and he is preparing to do more in the offing.

It’s only in the last few scenes of this movie that the monsters are given a lot of exposure. The two main characters – Sam and Andrew – get to see two alien creatures dancing and communicating with each other in full view. The story could have been richer and with more of the oomph found in sci-fi flicks if Edwards allocated more scenes for the monsters than the questionable love angle between the main characters.

As mentioned earlier, the film raises a lot of questions. There was one statement made by Sam and Andrew’s escorts that the creatures do not do anything if they are left alone, hence, the Mexicans can still risk living in their country, even in the “infected zones”. The question however is why the creature still attacked the soldiers who were transporting Sam and Andrew.

Does this imply that the monsters are now asserting their superiority over humans? Has it gone out of control? Or have the Mexicans been really mistaken? Since these questions were left hanging at the end of this film, perhaps it would help to assess the possible reasons the director preferred this type of ending, or perhaps the viewer should draw his/her own conclusion. Is this film actually a satire? Is it possible that there really is more than meets the eye in this film? Any scenario is possible to make this film more relevant to the viewer.

Then again, it’s also possible that Director Edwards wants to create an effect that is similar to the mind-warping that other film directors resort to, in order to create an “auteur” image before the public. From a more optimistic perspective of this art work, here is what other critics have to say: “If ‘Monsters’ is any indication, first-time director, Gareth Edwards, will be dazzling audiences for years to come” (Armstrong, 1).

Works Cited

Monsters (2010). Dir. Gareth Edwards. Perf. Whitney Able, Scooty McNairy. Magnet Releasing (US), Vertigo Films (UK). 2010. Film.

Kohn, Eric. “Making Movies with Laptops and Ingenuity”. The New York Times/Movies. 13 Oct. 2010. Web. 20 April 2011.

Armstrong, Eric. “Monsters (2010)”. The Moving Arts Film Journal. 21 Jan. 2011. Web. 20 April 2011.

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