Monsters – A Unique Cinematic Experience!

The trailers for Monsters suggest that it’s a fast-paced monster movie. It’s not – but that’s not a bad thing. Instead, it’s an intimate character driven film that combines elements of The African Queen and Godzilla – not the usual monster film by a longshot. And, oh, yeah, it was made for a mere half-million dollars.

Written and directed Gareth Edwards, Monsters takes place in a world where a NASA space probe has returned, contaminated with alien spores that have grown and become enormous, luminous, octopus-like creatures that do not behave in a manner easily deciphered – let alone predicted – by humans. They’ve been here for six years and have taken over a large part of Mexico – an area referred to as the Infected Zone.

When cynical photographer/journalist Andrew Caulder [Scoot McNairy] is tasked by his boss with returning his daughter, Samantha Wynden [Whitney Able] to the U.S., he is not amused – especially since he’s more interested in getting photos of the monsters than babysitting someone he thinks of as a spoiled rich girl. She’s not terribly thrilled either, because she sees his cynicism.

They are forced to travel through the Infected Zone when they miss the last ferry before the route is shut down because of increased monster activity – and they can’t come up with the extortionate rate demanded by the ferry master. This results in their traveling through the jungle – on foot, at first, and then by boat – aided by different groups of disreputable-looking, but mostly friendly natives.

As they travel, they encounter areas recently inhabited but now in ruins, pausing to climb an Aztec pyramid – and they learn about each other. When she asks why he does what he does, his response involves the rates her father pays him for a happy child as opposed to a child killed by a monster. They may come from completely different worlds but now they’re in yet another world – one in which neither belongs.

Although we get a glimpse of one of the creatures in a snowy bit of film before we actually meet Andrew and Samantha, it’s not really that clear – but it is massive, and seems impervious to the weapons being deployed against it. Over the course of the film, we only see parts of other creatures – tentacles, a burnt husk – just enough to keep the suspense building. When we finally see a creature for real, it is simultaneously eerily beautiful and genuinely scary.


Writer/director Edwards shot the film in Mexico, Guatemala and Galveston, Texas, guerrilla-style, shooting without permits and utilizing locals to play all but the leads. The film was largely improvised, so we don’t get a lot of classic lines [mostly because real people just don’t talk like that], so there’s a greater sense of reality. Edwards used a crew that, including the leads, rarely exceeded a half-dozen people – he was his own cinematographer. Then, when the shoot was complete, he edited the film and added CG effects on his home computer.

The main effects are, of course, the creatures and the wall that lines the U.S.-Mexico border, but there are places where locales have been enhanced to add impact to the devastation left in the wake of those creatures. Most are not likely to register as being effects at all.

It might be easy to see some social commentary in the film – especially when Andrew and Samantha reach the American border and he mentions how odd it is to see the border, which has been fenced in, from outside.

In the end, though, the film is about the growing relationship between Andrew [jaded, but not quite as crusty as The African Queen’s Charlie Allnut] and Samantha [not quite as feisty as The African Queen’s Rose Sayer, but definitely more sullen]. McNairy and Able turn in very good performances as the mismatched pair who go through hell [well, The Infected Zone] together. They have great chemistry and screen presence.

The creatures are certainly awe-inspiring – when we finally get to see them in their entirety – but they make so few appearances in the film that it may be disappointing for audiences looking for city stompers and explosions.

If you go in expecting a suspenseful, character-driven film with some creepy and occasionally scary sequences, then you’ll probably enjoy Monsters – even with its very un-Hollywood conclusion. At the very least, you’ll still be pondering it long after the final credits roll. It’s a genuinely unique experience.

Final Grade: B+