Monsters is not the film I thought it was going to be. That isn't a positive or a negative - simply a fact. I expected one type of film and was given another. It was much slower and much more personal than I thought it would be. That might turn off the crowd expecting epic monster action - and justifiably so, since the film is, in fact, titled Monsters. But what we're given is very smart and sweet, and a fantastic example of quality filmmaking on a tight budget. Monsters is visually stunning, looking better than so many bid budget blockbusters that flood theaters.
Monsters, unlike similar films like Cloverfield or War of the Worlds, doesn't show the origin or even the beginnings of its titular creatures. It instead starts some time after the creatures have already landed on Earth and a sizable chunk of Mexico has been quarantined. The quarantine ends at the US border, where a massive wall has been constructed. I think they're trying to say something about illegal aliens.
Andrew is an American photojournalist trying to snag a picture of one of the creatures - hopefully alive for once. But a more pressing issue arises and he must get Samantha - his boss's daughter - back to America in one piece. Their journey becomes the focus on the film, and it's one full of perils, tension, romance, and loads and loads of atmosphere.
Monsters takes one of the cardinal rules of suspense - it's not what you see, but what you don't see - and turns it into an art form. While the tiny budget already limited what writer/director Gareth Edwards could show, I believe that Edwards is a smart filmmaker and even if he had an immense budget, the end product would look relatively the same. Monsters has us always on edge - always - and it's the knowledge that the creatures are everywhere around us, just out of view. We hear plenty of noises. We see bits and pieces. But it's never enough to defeat our imaginations, and our imaginations are what terrifies us.
And the look of the monsters doesn't matter as much as we think it does. It's a strong curiosity, for sure, but the opening scene of the film establishes their size, and that's the perfect amount of information. We know then that they're serious business and it would be a rare occasion for a human to survive an encounter.
But are they hostile? That's definitely up for debate and one could suggest that the title refers not to the creatures, but to the humans that fight them. But we're not given sufficient information to answer that, because we're not shown or told who fired the first round, we only know that we're at war.
Surprisingly, this is all a backdrop for a love story between our two leads. It's very real and carried out to perfection by Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able, who happen to be married in real life.
Monsters is a very powerful film in several aspects. It's not an action film, and those looking for such will be incredibly disappointed. But it's suspenseful, gorgeous, and incredibly moving.
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