"What'd you find, Cortez?"
Like so many alien films before it, MONSTERS begins with an intro stating mankind has sent out a probe looking for a reply. It doesn't make its return trip, burning up in the atmosphere over Mexico. Shortly after, squid-like creatures start appearing in that country and Mexico becomes quarantined from the U.S., having been dubbed an 'infected zone.'
MONSTERS is the brainchild of Gareth Edwards, a British special effects specialist. The rumour is that Edwards himself paid for the project--$15,000, an unfathomably low amount. At first glance, it resembles DISTRICT 9, the exceptional film from 2009 about the segregation of a stranded species in Johannesburg, South Africa. This is not the case. Both are gritty with political tones; District morphs into an action film while MONSTERS maintains its subdued nature.
While there are some impressive effects--namely the opening and closing confrontations, the aliens are largely talked about or shown in brief glimpses. Surely due to the lack of funding, the absence of exposure also assists in creating the mood. Similar to JAWS when the shark malfunctioned so frequently, forcing Steven Spielberg to switch his tactics; the big fish wasn't actually seen on screen for the first third of the picture. The lack of a tangible entity makes for a much more unnerving experience.
Whitney Able and Scoot McNairy star as Samantha and Kaulder. Kaulder is a photographer sent into into the fray. He needs to be at the heart of the action declaring that a dead child ravaged by the creatures will fetch him an exorbitant amount of money. Sam is the daughter of Kaulder's boss; she finds herself caught behind enemy lines so to speak. The ferries--the most secure route to safety--become unavailable, forcing Sam and Kaulder to go by car and foot. The film becomes a trek to escape to America, beyond the towering stone walls. Throughout, evidence is shown of the monsters devastation: felled buildings, decimated property, torn about bodies and broken lives.
Sam is engaged, Kaulder has a son, but an attraction is palpable between the two. Without question Able is a beautiful woman which raises (to me anyway) an interesting argument. Do we care about these personalities because of their physical characteristics? I found myself worrying about Sam, hoping for her survival. Would I have felt the same way if Able is less easy on the eyes? It's a compelling question as to whether the story would carry as much weight as it does without the allure of its leading lady. (Or perhaps more likely, it reveals something of myself.)
This is not a film about the multi-story tall beasts, but the humans who occupy the lands. Director Edwards has woven an account of sustainability, for both us and them. Edwards supposedly entered Mexico and filmed his footage illegally. Other than Able and McNairy the entire cast are native to the country, creating a superlative sense of vérité. This is a triumph among independent pictures, a moving piece of art. The question of what the monsters want is never really answered. It's possible they've come to ruin. Or maybe they're a bit like us, looking for a lasting connection.