By Ted Faraone
It has been reported that “Monsters” was made for $15,000. That would put it in company with the awful “Paranormal Activity.” It’s also a lot of baloney. Helmer Gareth Edwards feature debut is not a big budget effort. The most credible press report your critic has seen pegs shooting at $100,000 and post-production, which is where pic was really made, at $450,000. That should astonish no one who has looked at Edwards’ resume. He made his name as a visual special effects man. Edwards and backers got a lot of bang for their buck. Heck, Edwards even worked three more jobs — as writer, cinematographer, and special effects guru.
Backstory is handled quickly. Six years prior to pic’s action, a NASA probe carrying life forms from outer space, crashed over Central America on re-entry to the Earth. The northern half of Mexico is now quarantined as an “Infected Zone.” It turns out, about halfway through pic’s 94 minutes, that the Infected Zone is so named because that’s where the alien “creatures,” which look like giant squid (about 150 feet across), float through the air, and sound like elephants with sinus trouble, lay their eggs. Said eggs are attached to trees and glow when touched. US and Mexican military fight their advance mostly with air strikes and a giant border wall, the sight of which would probably put anti-immigration zealots into a state of ecstasy.
Enter Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy) a news photographer with a touch of sleaze, who is ordered to rescue the daughter of his publisher, Samantha Wynden, a cute blonde played by Whitney Able. This is the last thing a guy who gets $50k from Wynden’s dad for shots of blood and gore, wants to do, but do it he must. His job is on the line. Meanwhile, the “creatures” show menacing signs of branching out from the Infected Zone. They also seem to be attracted to light at night, a tidbit auds should bear in mind.
A dangling participle requires almost total suspension of disbelief. Why can’t Samantha simply get on a plane and fly back to the US — and what was she doing in Mexico in the first place given the nation’s chaotic state? And what about going south, to an airport or ship terminal far from danger? That would be too easy, and there wouldn’t be a movie.
No. Kaulder and “Sam” have to take a train to the gulf coast and from there board a ferry to the US. Neither cares much for the other. Due to trouble ahead, the train stops and reverses course. The pair set off on foot, hitchhiking to the coast, which they finally reach late at night; pay an exorbitant amount for ferry tickets, and crash at a local hotel — in separate rooms.
Herein lies pic’s turning point, where action finally achieves liftoff. Perhaps it is a lesson of sorts. Kaulder suggests that he and Sam bunk together. Sam vetoes the idea. He also suggests they go do tequila shots. She’d rather sleep. The ferry leaves at 7 am. Sam closes door on Kaulder. Kaulder hits the bar, does tequila shots, and picks up a prostitute. She steals the pair’s passports and money while hungover Kaulder, in his underwear, chases a ticked off Sam who has walked away in disgust after paying him an urgent wakeup call. Note to girls: If your life depends on a guy, keep him in sight. Note to guys: 1. Don’t be so obnoxious that the girl you are to protect refuses to let you do so, and 2. Don’t get drunk and pick up a whore on the eve of your escape. The pair miss the ferry. No refunds.
A price gouging ticket broker, who had charged the exorbitant sum of $5,000 for ferry tickets — It had better be the Queen Mary II at those prices — now wants an additional $5k per person to get them a river boat passage through the Infected Zone to the US. Sam pays with her diamond engagement ring.
Despite a few close encounters with “creatures,” pic never really develops the suspense common to the genre as the pair claw their way to the US border. Here, too, pic takes some liberties with geography. Northern Mexico is not jungle terrain. Riverboat scenes were shot further south, in Guatemala. The genre issue is a tad complicated. Edwards is a special effects man who set out to shoot a love story. You send a special effects man to make a love story, and what you get is a love story pasted over a sci-fi thriller. It’s not quite one or the other. Sharp-eyed readers will note that your critic made no mention of Sam having to be persuaded to pay for the trip through the Infected Zone with her diamond engagement ring. Perhaps hers is not a match made in Heaven.
The ending, which comes almost unexpectedly — “Monsters” was edited crisply by Colin Goudie — is a tad loopy. It involves a pair of “creatures” mating. At least that’s what Edwards says they are doing, and one sort of gets the idea, but it is not entirely clear from the material. There is a parallel to be drawn, however, and Edwards draws it. But it also begs the question as to whether the “creatures” are pernicious, which is pic’s premise.
“Monsters” carries an “R” rating. Your critic would give it PG. There is little objectionable language, no drug use, and no sex between humans.
Rated: Rated R for language.
Release Date: 2010-10-29
Screenplay: Gareth Edwards
Official Website: http://www.facebook.com/monstersthefilm