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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, November 5, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 45
Intriguing Monsters a journey to nowhere
Arts & Entertainment
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Intriguing Monsters a journey to nowhere

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer

Monsters
Opening November 5


In a discovery straight out of 2010: The Year We Make Contact, NASA learns that there is extraterrestrial life within the solar system, dispatching a probe to Europa to collect samples and bring them back to Earth. But complications ensue, and the vessel crash-lands in the wilds of Central America. Suddenly over half of Mexico is an 'Infected Zone,' crawling with octopus-like creatures which cause mass devastation and havoc.

Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy) is a photojournalist who has been working on the outskirts of the Infected Zone for three years. Sam Wynden (Whitney Able) is a tourist who has suffered a recent loss and just so happens to be the daughter of the owner of Andrew's publication. Andrew agrees to transport Sam through the Infected Zone and back to the United States. The two are forced to travel through the heart of the most dangerous areas after the military cuts off all the normal routes due to increased creature activity.

Former visual effects BBC whiz kid Gareth Edwards (he's worked on projects as varied as In the Shadow of the Moon and the 2006 program Perfect Disasters) makes his theatrical narrative debut with the low-key science fiction effort Monsters, an independently produced feature that is far more mismatched love story and travelogue than it is interstellar thriller. But not only did he direct this film, he also wrote its screenplay, is listed as the production designer and headed up the visual effects department. This is his vision, 100 percent, and as such all kudos and all finger-pointing should be sent in his direction - and there are plenty of both to go around.

I loved the simplicity of his story, the directness of the narrative. Right from the start I knew what kind of film this was going to be and where it was more than likely going to go. Sure, there were surprises as to how it would get there and what wonders would be showcased, but in the end this was nothing more than an eerie, mostly jungle-set road trip where the main characters would learn just as much about themselves as they do the gigantic creatures they're hoping to avoid.

And I was perfectly fine with that. Both Sam and Andrew are interesting people with intriguing backstories that are subtly flushed out as things progress. They share some intimately dynamic moments, more than a few of which were almost spiritual in the way they produced a sense of awe. Edwards doesn't overstate things and he doesn't try to pound his points home with a sledgehammer; he lets things develop at their own unhurried pace, though he keeps the danger level for the protagonists high.

On the flipside, however, it simply must be said that nothing much actually happens here. The movie is very predictable and can even be accused of being a tiny bit slow. While a signature sequence at an empty gas station almost achieves a Close Encounters of the Third Kind-type elegance, the scenes right after it are both obnoxious and way too clever for their own good. Worse, they make Sam and Andrew's journey relatively pointless, as viewers who have been paying attention are sure to realize the circular, non-linear nature of what they just sat through.

I'm good with a film like this being a tragedy if I feel like it's earned the distinction, but the reality here is altogether different. Edwards plays with the audience in a way that's almost indefensible, making people care about what is going on and root for their heroes, but keeping them unaware that what they're watching is actually a flashback. I didn't appreciate this at all, and as laudable as the majority of the film is, I felt cheated by the time it was over.

Not to say I do not respect the filmmaker's vision or his uncanny ability to create a visually intriguing world on a miniscule budget. His use of sound is downright extraordinary, and I love it when a movie realizes that the scariest and most thrilling sequences are those that happen just outside of what a person can see. Additionally, he really has written a pair of flawed, three-dimensional characters a person almost can't help but root for, and a lot of times I found that the sense of amazement, or of wonder, or of sadness, or of outright terror they were feeling were passed directly onto me.

Yet Monsters almost can't help but leave a bad taste in my mouth. As laudable as much of it is, I did not value the way it wrapped itself up. I found the last scenes to be silly - almost laughable - tricking the audience in a way that's borderline insufferable. Essentially the voyage becomes all for naught, and while I assume a lot of viewers won't notice the relation between first scene and last, if they do, I have this uneasy feeling they'll ultimately be just as disappointed and as exasperated by it all as I eventually was.

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