Derivative, tedious and rather trying, this low-budget sci-fi road movie is far from the masterpiece some have claimed it to be. Heralded as an extraordinary achievement in production (which is, for the most part, a fair assessment), the film relies on beautiful photography and vague menacing moments to keep the audience captivated. This didn’t work for me.
A messy mish-mash of War of the Worlds, Cloverfield and, most notably, District 9, Monsters draws a line around part of Mexico and labels it an ‘infected zone’ due to an outbreak of octopus-inspired alien life forms which wreak devastation when they migrate up and down the length of the country. At the centre of the film are two Americans, including a magazine photographer given the task of getting his boss’s 20-something daughter out of Mexico and into the safe-guarded United States. They walk through jungles, disaster zones and destroyed suburban houses searching for safe signs of civilised life in an attempt to get back to the world they know.
It is true that the film does have a beguiling visual ‘look’ about it, partly created by manipulating depth of field camera settings, but it offers little more in the way of entertainment. Enjoyment through the appreciation of technique is all very well, but Monsters only has beautiful cinematography to offer in the way of anything very worthwhile. If you put this feature aside, you would have a rather bare-bones, uninteresting and still very arty monster movie with some rather unconvincing creature effects. The two central characters are supposed to come across as very human and normal, but are actually smug, whiney and unlikable. Director, producer, writer, cinematographer and visual effects guy Gareth Edwards has done an admirable job in creating a world with more wonder than anything James Cameron could have created; but in the same way as Avatar, his characters speak patchy dialogue and their efforts to appear natural only make them seem affected and false. There is also a flat attempt to get philosophical about devastation, greed and life in general; these efforts are as unconvincing as the flaky CGI.
Monsters is by no means a terrible film, but many seem to have been charmed into liking it on its visual style alone. It does manage to enchant the viewer in a way several of its predecessors have not (Cloverfield‘s sledgehammer chills could take a few tips from Edwards’s monster scenes), but in the end it fails to be any better than the films it borrows from.
Monsters, directed by Gareth Edwards, is available on DVD Blu-ray disc from Momentum Pictures, certificate 12.