Monsters (2010)

Rating: C+

Dir: Gareth Edwards
Star: Scoot McNairy, Whitney Able

After captions inform us that a returning space-probe broke up over Mexico, infecting a large area with alien creatures, leading to the section being quarantined, it’s night-vision footage of a military patrol who are suddenly attacked by one of the things. It’s very large, tenticular and sitting on top of a building. We then switch to a few days earlier when photo-journalist Andrew (McNairy) is tasked with getting Samantha (Able), the daughter of his employer, back to the US. Their train is blocked, and an attempt to get home by ferry is stopped when their passports are stolen. This gives them only one option: hire guides to take them through the quarantined zone and back to the American border.

The first couple of minutes of this – the patrol footage mentioned above – are quite brilliant, and it looks really slick for something made on a “low six-figures” budget, shot on location (mostly in central America) with a crew of five, plus the two actors. The use of found locations is superb, and Edwards uses things like digitally-doctored road-signs to create an atmosphere that would cost $100 million to build from scratch, so much credit is due for that. However, calling your film “Monsters” creates a certain set of expectations. I mean, would Monsters, Inc. have been any fun if you’d seen Sulley and Mike for about two minutes? Exactly. That’s what you get here: be aware there’s only one scene where you get a good look at the creatures. While it’s cool, you have to sit through a lot of rain-forest footage and so on, to get there.

Admittedly, I can understand why Edwards did not opt for the more accurate, if less commercial, title, “Two people hoof it through the jungle, hear some spooky noises and build a relationship.” It’s the same way Zombieland is not “about” zombies, but is a road-movie set against a zombie backdrop. Here, Edwards avoids the obvious “When Aliens Attack!” mode, in favour of setting his story down the road, when things have achieved an uneasy normality – see District 9 for a similar approach. Still, it wasn’t what I expected, based upon the trailer and story line, and while Edwards is certainly a name to keep an eye on in future, this works better as a trailer and story line, than as an actual feature.