Monsters

The début feature from British director Gareth Edwards is transparently a re-hashing of ground covered in last year’s District 9 and 2008’s Cloverfield, fused with a love story. Hideous, semi-electrified octopus-like monsters, unleashed from a NASA space probe which crash-landed, have overtaken a large, newly verdant stretch of land between the US and Mexico.

In this terrifying new world filled with life-zapping noodly appendages and round-the-clock media reports of alien rampages at the gates to the “Infected Zone,” Scoot McNairy (In Search of a Midnight Kiss) plays an American photojournalist stuck south of the border. His boss’ daughter is also stranded, so he offers (read: is basically forced into offering) his assistance in getting her home safe. What follows is part road movie, part monster movie, and (a large) part cheesy, forced love story. The couple miss the last ferry home, so must trek through the “Infected Zone” on foot, assisted by a surly crew of semi-militant Mexicans.

Edwards—who has, according to the film’s press kit, won a BAFTA and been nominated for an Emmy for special effects work—doubles as cinematographer on the film. While the film is for the most part pretty well-shot, there’s a pervasive Cloverfield-esque “keep-the-camera-constantly-moving” vibe that becomes annoying. Several scenes which take place on a placid river should have been shot with some sort of Steadicam: the shakiness of the camera every so often is ridiculously distracting.

Edwards also wrote the film, though his script was apparently little more than bullet-point plot markers that needed to be ticked off: much of the dialogue was improvised. Unlike many improvised films (like almost every mumblecore film, for example) most of what these characters say to one another feels more than a bit artificial, and an early-morning speech by McNairy’s photojournalist about the gargantuan wall put up at the border to the US—“the largest-man made structure ever created,” or something like that—is outright laughable in its contrivance.

Save for a completely misleading trailer, the film was slickly advertised (witness, for example, the totally awesome poster above) and quickly became the talk of the filmic blogosphere. Pity, then, that the final product was nowhere near as compelling, scary or inventive as many had hoped.

Monsters opens Thursday November 18th.

If you’re willing to have parts of the plot spoiled before you see the film, I’ve written up a few brief (read: muddled) thoughts on how the film could have easily been significantly more enjoyable while still exploring the same themes it tries to explore as is—although it would’ve required a major change to its narrative construction.

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