PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Film

'Monsters': After the (Almost) Fall of Man

A dialed down approach to the otherwise apoplectic action film that easily wins over those tired out by the continuing Michael Bay-ing of the genre.


Monsters

Director: Gareth Edwards
Cast: Whitney Able, Scoot McNairy
Rated: R
Studio: Magnet Releasing
Year: 2010
US date: 2010-10-29 (General release)
Website
Trailer

If an alien invasion ever occurs, let's hope it's very similar to the one depicted in the independent sci-fi flick Monsters. It actually seems...survivable. No, the world is really no safer, six years in to the "accidental" unleashing of an extraterrestrial life form on planet Earth, and there is just as much mindless destruction from the visitors as our own overblown military machine. The real reason one should hope for the kids of conflict illustrated here is that, in general, Gareth Edwards' movie is a meditation on the human spirit, on its desire to survive, and how, even under the most unnatural and cataclysmic circumstances, the population seems to energize and endure.

Of course, you don't see much of said gumption out of our two exceptionally selfish leads. The storyline of Monsters focuses on photojournalist Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy) who is desperate for a scoop. Having traveled to Mexico near the start of the dreaded seasonal rise in alien activity, he hopes to capture the creatures "in action" and make a name for himself. During a ride-along with some soldiers, he stumbles across Samantha Wynden (Whitney Able), daughter of his high powered, highly influential boss. As a favor, Kaulder agrees to shuttle the girl back to America. When their regular passage falls through, they must take the far more treacherous route through the incredibly dangerous 'Quarantine Zone'. There, in a no man's land of desolation and destruction, they must carefully maneuver to avoid meeting up with these giant beasts face to...face.

If the Devil is in the details, then Monsters is the Antichrist himself. This is a film that more or less thrives on the things you don't notice, the overall look and feel of its fading future shock situations. Edwards, a visual effects wizard making his full length feature debut here, is not interested in Cloverfield levels of chaos or man in suit mayhem ala Godzilla. Instead, he is far more concerned with taking the premise and extrapolating it out to its full passive potential. Using the impoverished part of Mexico as a backdrop and adding in digital elements to suggest an uneasy calm within a combat zone, it's the little things that spark our imagination: the various signs providing warning and procedural protocol; the news reports blaring in the background of scenes; the anarchic way within the outskirts of the quarantine; the various symbols of the aliens' presence and abilities.

Anyone wanting big budget air battles with CG xenomorphs filling the screen will be very disappointed. There are only a few sightings on the title entities, and even then, they are viewed in glimpses and half-caught glances. Edwards purposefully makes them part of the environment, arguing that this is what reality would be like when the initial shock - and the attempted showdowns - have worn off. His main focus is on Kaulder and Sam, and while we initially could care less about their quarrelsome inability to get along, we eventually grow to sort-of sympathize. As it maneuvers its subtle narrative, Monsters does become less intimate and more focused on the big picture. This then allows us to settle in and start identifying with our leads. We may not always like them, and don't really buy their budding romance, but given the outsized circumstances...

Indeed, it's the atmosphere that wins us over, the evocative locations with their burned out aircraft and bombed out buildings. Even toward the end, when Kaulder and Sam find themselves in an abandoned gas station, complete with all the creature comforts, the combination of the recognizable and the unknown is startling. Since he obviously was hampered by a lack funds (reports have the budget hovering somewhere under $100K), Edwards needs to use every trick at his disposal. He wants to craft a situation that we all might identify with, much as Cormac McCarthy did with his post-apocalyptic missive The Road. But unlike that prize-winning novel, which turned humanity on itself in striking and sickening ways, our players are simply moving along predetermined paths, rules, regulations and bureaucratic babbling taking the place of suicidal standoffs.

There will be those who have a hard time with the pro-enviro ending, however. Though the sequence is amazing to look at (and has been set up well in the previous scenes involving the infected trees and waterways), and offers our best glimpse yet at the intruders, it does feel slightly sentimental, as if the violence before was nothing more than an insane overreaction to something very pure and...natual? One of the flaws here is that Edwards doesn't give us enough of a juxtaposition - i.e. the creatures malevolence vs. their seeming docile nature - to warrant the proposed payoff. The movie need one or two more skyscraping crushing sequences to earn such a tone poem position. Sadly, they never arrive - but, of course, there was never an intention to deliver same.

Still, there is so much here to like, a dialed down approach to the otherwise apoplectic action film that easily wins over those tired out by the continuing Michael Bay-ing of the genre. Some will see the somber designs as a pitfall and consider passing, waiting for something like Skyline to fill the screen with massive process shots and freak show F/X wonder. What they fail to realize is that, sometimes, ideas can be just as spellbinding as hundreds of computer generated beasties. Monsters does fails to 100% fully realize the epic potential in its premise, but that's quite all right. Instead, it makes the most of its limited screen time to infer what life would really be like under a limited alien invasion. While sustainable, the truth is much more depressing, and difficult to take.

7

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.

Books

'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.

Music

1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.

Film

'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.

Music

The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.

Music

Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.

Music

15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.

Books

'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.

Music

20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.

Film

Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.

Film

The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.

Television

Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).

Music

Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.

Music

Aalok Bala Revels in Nature and Contradiction on EP 'Sacred Mirror'

Electronic musician Aalok Bala knows the night is not a simple mirror, "silver and exact"; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.

Music

Clipping Take a Stab at Horrorcore with the Fiery 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'

Clipping's latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is a terrifying, razor-sharp sequel to their previous ode to the horror film genre.

Music

Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.

Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.