Director: Gareth Edwards
The alien invasion movie is as much a staple of modern cinema as the rom com. Usually they are big-budget, fire and brimstone affairs, complete with the destruction of one or more major cities and a sky full of fireworks. Gareth Edwards first feature eschews the usual pyrotechnics and instead uses the presence of aliens on Earth as the backdrop to a simpler, more human story.
Six years after alien creatures have arrived on Earth, specifically in an area which separates Mexico and the United States, photojournalist Andrew is ordered to deliver his employer’s wayward daughter, Samantha, across the border and back into the US. Since the border consists of an ‘Infected Zone’ where the creatures now reside, despite constant attempts by the Mexican and American military to cleanse them, the journey is a perilous one. As the couple embark on a trek across the zone, their relationship develops.
Monsters has been compared by many to last year’s District 9, another low-budget debut concerning alien invaders. It’s not a wholly inaccurate comparison; both movies use the aliens as an allegory and both begin at a point at which the aliens are a well established presence on the planet. However, where District 9 was a tongue-in-cheek romp, Monsters is more sombre and haunting. Movies of this ilk, made on a dime, hinge on convincing with their performances and the two leads are more than up to the task. Andrew, stealing phone calls to the son who doesn’t know he’s his father, and Samantha, engaged to a man she doesn’t want to be with, are both lost souls. Essentially aliens in their own lives, neither are keen on returning home. Able and McNairy, a couple in real life, have great chemistry and develop their romance softly. And while their story is a fairly standard one, Director Edwards tells it without burdening the narrative with the usual signpost moments that mark many screen romances. This is an approach that Monsters employs in its handling of the aliens themselves. Exposition is kept to a minimum, with only a brief insight into how ‘the creatures’ arrived. We are left to decide for ourselves what the huge, bio-luminous, tentacled life-forms actually want, although the overriding impression is that they just want to be left alone. Budget constraints mean that the aliens are glimpsed very rarely, but when they do appear on screen they are exceptionally well done, both beautiful and menacing.
Monsters is the alien invasion movie with an Indie sensibility. And, like Signs, the presence of the aliens is a backdrop to a far more human story. There are moments of carnage, but these only occur whenever the military make an appearance, which begs the question of who the title of the movie really refers to.