Reviewing Monsters is an almost impossible task because I have to include a spoiler straight away (in the third paragraph of this review). Or maybe you can consider it a warning, because armed with this knowledge you might decide to avoid this film. Or maybe it’s praise, because this knowledge might make you want to see the film. Whatever you call it — spoiler, praise or warning — it’s something so integral to the film, I really have to mention it.
But I don’t think that giving you this information will affect your enjoyment of watching the film, instead all it will do is correct the impression you might have received from the trailers, which would make you think you’re about to see an action flick about monsters in Mexico. And the opening scenes of the movie would give you that impression.
Well, that’s a completely false impression and leads to that important spoiler: nothing happens in this movie. You’re not going to see military forces fighting pitched battles with marauding monsters (except in the opening scene). You won’t see the clever scientist who has the secret to defeat the monsters who delivers that information just at the crucial time. There won’t be any dramatic countdown clock. Heck, you’ll hardly even see any monsters.
You might now decide to skip the movie because of this information. Or you might still watch it but you won’t have my experience of watching the movie and looking at the clock, trying to guess when the first person will die or when you’ll get that first jump in your seat moment or when you come to the realization that this is one of those movies where nothing really happens. So I don’t know if I’m robbing you of that clock watching enjoyment or relieving you of its necessity.
And normally I don’t like movies where nothing really happens, but I did like Monsters, despite a ham fisted political message and somewhat implausible monsters.
So here’s the premise: a magazine photographer played by Scoot McNairy is desperately trying to get some pictures of the monsters introduced to Mexico after a NASA probe carrying alien life samples crash landed. But he’s been saddled with the job of getting his publisher’s daughter, played by Whitney Able, out of the country. But they’re thwarted first by rail delays and then his drunken incompetence when he tries to get her out by ship. And more and more of the country falls under quarantine while the military tries to bomb and gas the monsters.
It’s pretty obvious that the monsters are a statement about the U.S. stance on immigration, especially once the pair are driven to the same extremes used by illegal immigrants to get into the U.S. I’m pretty liberal about immigration, but I found the parallel a little too blatant. I admit, however, the image of the border wall was nicely done, although you’ll see that it seemed pretty ineffective in keeping our two protagonists from crossing the border.
And even though nothing happens, director (and writer and cinematographer) Gareth Edwards does a great job of making you think something’s going to happen. If this were a standard Hollywood action flick, that ripple in the water or scream from the jungle would precipitate buckets of blood in short order. But Edwards keeps teasing and teasing, never really giving you a good idea what the monsters really look like, or whether there are multiple kinds of monsters.
Unfortunately once I did see the monsters very plainly, I couldn’t help but be baffled by their appearance. Let’s just say they look like a creature from our own planet grown impossibly large and seeming very out of place. If you can ignore the incongruities, however, the ending is a very nice scene that would be appropriate in a National Geographic documentary about the monsters. You know, the scene where kids ask, “What are those animals doing, Mommy?”
Apparently Edwards was also the visual effects editor, doing most of the computer generated imagery himself. It’s competently done, but without the research and imagination that a giant effects house might have lent to the creature design. But of course a giant effects house wouldn’t be associated with a movie where nothing really happens.
I’m sorry I keep harping on that “nothing really happens” because I did enjoy the movie. And I also have to admit I sort of lied; something did finally happen to the two stars, in retrospect.