Monsters: Dark Continent (2014)

Rating: C+

Dir: Tom Green
Star: Johnny Harris, Sam Keeley, Joe Dempsie, Jesse Nagy

Less a sequel than a companion piece to the original Monsters, this tells the story of four friends from Detroit, who all sign up for the army and are deployed to the Middle East. Large-scale bombing operations are under way to control the massive alien creatures that arrived on Earth in the original film, but the collateral damage resulting has spawned an insurgency campaign against Western troops, and that’s what Michael (Keeley) and his pals are there to counter, under the stern leadership of Sergeant Frater (Harris). While the monsters are there, it’s much more in the background, and the pissed-off locals are a much bigger threat to the platoon.

This comes to a head when they are sent on a mission outside their usual urban area, to locate another patrol who have gone missing. An IED disables their vehicles, and forces them to take shelter in a nearby bombed-out building. This provides only a temporary refuge, with Frater and his men finding themselves captured by hostile forces, a very, very long way from help, and entirely dependent on their own resources for survival. This isn’t a monster movie as such. Know how Zombieland is more a road film in a zombie setting? Similarly, this is a war movie in a monster setting. There isn’t much interaction between the humans and the aliens at all, outside of one sequence where their interrogation of a farmer is interrupted by a gigantic interloper.

In some ways, this is disappointing: they are such cool creations, we could probably do with seeing a lot more of them, rather than a story that will be largely familiar to anyone who knows the works of Andy McNab. It’s the monsters that offer much new or refreshing here; seeing their tentacles beckoning in the distance can sometimes be frustrating, and you want to yell and wave your arms at them, going “Oi! Over here!” The other aspect is respectable enough, with both Harris and Keeley delivering solid performances, and bringing home the devastating nature of long-term exposure to conflict: Frater, in particular, is entirely dead inside, and only seems to have a vague self-awareness of this. Yet, I was hoping for a good deal more, and most of the potential in the idea – think Aliens, on a really big scale – is sadly unrealized.