6 years after a space probe crashes into central America (from which new forms of life begin to emerge resulting in monstrous creatures spreading across the central land belt of the Americas) photojournalist Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy) must find his boss’ daughter, Samantha (Whitney Able) and somehow get her across the infected area that seperates Mexico from the good ol’ US of A.
At the time of writing, the 2014 SDCC (or San Diego Comic-Con for those of us allergic to acronyms) has just gracefully swanned out the room leaving with us the oddly-scented news that Gareth Edwards, the direcor of ‘Monsters’ and the recently rebooted ‘Godzilla’, has been given the go ahead to get the old gang back together for ‘Godzilla 2’ (and by ‘old gang’ I mean Mothra, King Ghidorah, Rodan et al, not The Rat Pack or whatever) not to mention his involvement with the Star Wars franchise (man, who ISN’T involved with that these days? Am I involved? Are you?) and that his debut feature, the film I’m eventually going to talk about, is getting a sequel in about… 2 months or so. So with all this going for him, I thought it high time to go back and see how his first ‘little film that could’ feels several years down the line. I’ll just be 95 minutes or so.
First things predictably first ‘Monsters’ has a pretty neat little idea around it’s neck, as outlined in the above gist, and I’m not only taking my hat off to Gareth Edwards but I’m taking off the hat I keep under THAT hat too for his presentation of environmental story-telling. Right off the bat we as an audience get submerged in this affected world, dominated by the threat of towering spooky-beasts from the jungle. The look, the sound, hell, at times I swear I could smell what was going on onscreen. Edwards can paint these fantastic evironments that we just want to drink up with our senses, and for being a debut feature I am considerably impressed with his eye for locations, shots and that whole immersive sensibility he drapes over us as an audience, kind of like some sort of resonant sensory poncho that doesn’t itch all that much.
Likewise, the creature designs are magnificent, combining the best parts of cuttlefish and elephants until it resembles some sort of graceful teenage Cthulhu at a rave. These mini-Cthulhus are rarely seen until the films dying moments, but as before, their effect on the world is apparent and obvious and never in doubt. Simply hearing one is cause for concern, an effect that Edwards ratchets up rather-so neatly.
So we have a good premise, a brilliantly evocative depiction of creature-ravaged Mexico, a keen eye for the cinematography of the piece and wonderful-looking beasties so surely we’re looking at a blueberry cheesecake of excellence, right? Well, enthusiastic confectionary-analogy-maker, that’s just the window dressing and the stage. We need players, and with regards to ‘Monsters’ we still desperately need them.
I don’t want to be overly negative, as such a devotion to the deploration of someone’s abilities is better served on some more vitriolic website, but OH SWEET CARAMELISED CHRIST WHAT IS WRONG WITH THESE CHARACTERS?! Ahem. What I mean to say, in a more tempered fashion, is that our central two characters, Andrew and Samantha, are two of the least interesting and yet most infuriating leads anyone could have dread to have lead their debut film. From what I can recall, despite having just seen the film an hour ago, Andrew was a tool with a camera for a personality whilst Samantha only ever did one of two things: speak Spanish or pee. Their time on screen at times resembled bad home-made video footage from a gap year where they, like, really found themselves when they were, like, surrounded by nature and the crazy locals, like, yeah, like yeah. That and their teeth-grinding propensity to ask, when in the creature-filled infected zone, what that spooky noise was or what that weird moving thing is just made me want to chew off my thumbs. From the joint.
I understand there must be some kind of shortcoming when regarding a debut film, but the presentation of every other aspect of ‘Monsters’ holds up so well. That Edwards could drop the ball where a character-focussed effort such as this needs it to so badly just baffles me. Maybe he just doesn’t relate to humans. Maybe he sees us as birds or tortoises or something more alien, which would be interesting if that had been the point of the film in the first place. But it wasn’t. So… yeah…
The End Bit:
So what’s the overall score with ‘Monsters’? As much as I’m not fond of the star scoring system I’d definitely give one star for the little Cthulhus, one star for the premise and two for the seriously-way-to-go presentation of Central America in monster crisis. Then I’d take two stars back for our central two stars who themselves took any science-fiction allegory present in their respective stories and turned it into some kind of hideous slog through middle-class-twat-dom. Ultimately, ‘Monsters’ is a gorgeous landscape oil painting of a present-day science-fiction dystopia, briming with allegory and meaning but unfortunately ruined by two crudely-drawn paper puppets arsing around in front of it trying to be endearing whilst insulting your gran. Or your cat. Whichever you hold dearest.
Director: Gareth Edwards
Starring: Scoot McNairy, Whitney Able
Running Time: 94 minutes
Release Date: 3rd December, 2010