“A film about illegal ALIENS, the America fears of the unknown SPRAWLING issues South of the border, and the stretching TENTACLES of Latin influence into the States.” It’s all too easy to make light of Monsters‘ premise, but for an independent film in the true spirit of a B-movie it manages to deftly juggle a minimal budget, some impressive special effects, quite a few gripping moments, and that ever so essential political subtext, in really quite a brilliant fashion.
It’s an easy cop-out to state that “the less you know, the better” but Monsters is definitely one of those films. The situation is a near-future Central America, where half the sub-continent has been fenced into a quarantine zone following the destruction in low orbit of a returning NASA probe full of ‘alien matter’. Xenomorphic creatures have erupted into the area, and now the US army is effectively at war trying to keep these monsters at bay. In what remains of Mexico south of the zone, we find the Americans Samantha and Andrew, the latter being a photo-journalist tasked by his bosses to escort the former back to the States in one piece.
Needless to say it’s quite an eventful journey.
In such a curt synopsis the film can easily sound like a dunder-headed action film, but that isn’t the case, but neither is it an indie-schmindy mumblecore film either. A LOT of hoopla has been made about the film’s humble budget, and its profile as a breakout independent with a CGI edge to match many a blockbuster. But leaving value for money aside, Monsters is still an Action-SciFi-Thriller with two leads fated to be drawn together: one a pretty bottle-blond in hot-pants, and the other a tussle-haired handsome thing with well crafted stubble. The film is unashamedly pitching for the mainstream, taking as it’s starting point the child-friendly-but-wholly-terrifying 12A/PG13 perfection that is Jurassic Park. This is far from a bad thing.
The film is still brave in where it takes the audience, being more than comfortable at leaving a few things hanging, and giving those who want it something serious to chew on as well. Sometimes the symbolism can be a little blunt, perhaps self-consciously so, but equally there’s a fair portion of nuance in there as well. There are action-kicks, and things to think about, and that ticks many a box on my scorecard.
On reflection, credit goes to my friend who was along for both Monsters and Machete, to point out that both are ostensibly B-movies about real world issues (just like any B-movie worth its’ salt). It’s just that Monsters knocks Machete into a corner with a cocked sombrero in terms of actually having anything to say about something very current. A terrific achievement for a first time director with a tiny budget, but also a tremendous film quite in it’s own right.
Four and a Half out of Five
Monsters is showing at the Showroom cinema in Sheffield from the 3rd of December 2010