Half-Cent Movie Review: Monsters - 405 Magazine

Half-Cent Movie Review: Monsters

So called because my opinion and $4 will buy you a slice of coconut cream at Pie Junkie in the Plaza District.

So called because my opinion and $4 will buy you a slice of coconut cream at Pie Junkie in the Plaza District…

The 2010 film “Monsters” begins with an explanatory text burst: A NASA probe sent out to investigate a near-Earth and possibly-alien event crashed in northern Mexico on reentry. Whatever was on the probe began … affecting the local wildlife. Strange creatures are reported with increasing frequency (and at greater sizes). A quarantine zone was set up from coast to coast, and the U.S. begins planning a giant wall along its side of the Rio Grande.

That was six years ago.

It’s a great setup for a tale of two strangers – a shiftless, scruffy photographer and his wealthy boss’ trust-fund daughter who’s suspiciously noncommittal about her impending wedding – trying to make their way from Mexico back to the U.S.A. The resulting movie about their trek is … well, it’s honestly not so much a movie as it is an experiment: the microscopic budget means very few creature encounters (effects shots are expensive), a small cast, no sets and even no script, really. The extras were just people the skeleton crew met along the way and many of them didn’t speak English, so the two leads got broad story points and improvised most of their dialogue and blocking.

That results in a lot of long shots without much dialogue, and very little in the way of excitement – but that doesn’t mean it’s a failure. The Central American locations where they shot (often without permission) are impressively scenic, actors Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able do pretty good work with their gradually deepening connection (they were dating at the time) and some scenes are made masterfully tense with only forbidding jungle and unsettling sounds. And no spoilers, but the last five minutes are just gorgeous.

In the end, it’s not really a great movie unless you factor in the budgetary considerations, but I’m glad I watched it – some scenes are intensely memorable, and it serves as a great proof of concept for director Gareth Edwards’ next project: May 2014’s big damn “Godzilla” reboot. Sure, America tried that once before, but Roland Emmerich is a terrible director who makes terrible movies and he should feel terrible about his terrible “big stupid lizard that isn’t really Godzilla” movie. Edwards showed a good flair for depicting a human-level perspective of a giant event, Frank Darabont is writing, the cast includes David Strathairn and Ken Watanabe and I’m excited. Frankly, as a longtime Toho fan, I’ll be thrilled just to hear the roar over theater speakers … but after watching “Monsters,” I feel like Edwards is a good choice to bring the magic back. Hayaku!

STEVE GILL is unusually tall, has a B.A. in Letters and a minor in Classics from OU, drinks a great deal of coffee and openly delights in writing, editing and catching the occasional typo for Slice – especially since his dream career (millionaire layabout in a P.G. Wodehouse novel) is notoriously difficult to break into. He's probably trying to think of a joke about pirates right now.