Tuesday, January 17, 2012

23. MONSTERS (2010)

Six years after a space probe collecting alien life forms crashes in Central America, producing a so-called "Infected Zone" between the United States and South America, an American magazine photographer Kaulter (Scoot McNairy) is ordered by his publisher to escort his daughter Sam (Whitney Able) back to safety in the newly-walled USA. Plans to achieve this the easy way, by ferry, are squelched by local corruption, forcing them to make their way toward safety through the Infected Zone.

An $800,000 feature, MONSTERS marked the writing-directing debut of visual effects designer Gareth Edwards, who allowed the storyline to develop organically between his two lead actors. (His writing credit, then, must stem from the movie's concept and the selective choices he made in editing the picture, rather than from actually being responsible for dialogue and character -- something which I, as a writer, would not wish to encourage as a trend.) Able and McNairy, reportedly involved at the time of filming, are photogenic and hold one's attention with their realistic quirks, patter and banter; their personal story is really the point here, rather than their nicely-staged, occasional encounters with the monsters (eg., the arrogant capitalist publisher, the corrupt Mexican officials, the passport-thieving whore whose face we never see, the Army who muscle in to tear the would-be lovers apart) and the floaty, fluorescent, squid-like aliens.

What unfolds between this couple isn't new or remarkable, but it's reasonably captivating -- in an almost nouvelle vague way -- set against this apocalyptic backdrop, which offers a nightmarish parallel to a real world without much hope of security or future. The film builds to a particularly close encounter at an abandoned convenience store in the southwestern United States, where I gathered the point was that Kaulter forgets to take photos because something in his life now means more to him than his work. What the interaction of the aliens suggests is to enjoy one another while you can, then move on, but the illustration arrives too late for our protagonists to benefit from their example. At only 94 minutes, it's reasonably diverting and doesn't overstay it's welcome, but I sense it won't stand up terribly well to repeat viewings.

Viewed on Magnolia Blu-ray disc.


  1. I'll cop that I turned it off pretty early in the movie (the main character does something so boneheaded to get the narrative rolling that I was insulted that the filmmaker thought that little of his audience). Maybe I'll try it again.

    But I definitely agree with you that the improv approach of late to filmmaking is a bad trend. I suppose it can work in comedy, but otherwise if a filmmaker can't write, let a scripter handle it.

  2. Didn't he just allow the dialogue and the relationship to develop between his two leads? The story, outline, structure etc are HIS, and therefore the screenplay is his - like Curb Your Enthusiasm. As a filmmaker I agree wholeheartedly with this. It allows an organic relationship between director and cast. Surely that's why he deserves the writing credit? It's not like the cast were saying "...And then I imagine we see a Monster here, and run over here... and then we look on in awe as -" I suspect - in fact KNOW - that Gareth Edwards wrote an outline... Surely improv to an outline and direction is nothing new?

    Chris Cooke