DVD Release Date:  February 1, 2011
Theatrical Release Date:  October 29, 2010 (limited)
Rating:  R (for language)

Genre:  Horror

Run Time:  94 min.
Director:  Gareth Edwards

Actors:  Scoot McNairy, Whitney Able, Kevon Kane

While Saw 3D and Paranormal Activity 2 were duking it out for box-office dominance, a small, arthouse film titled Monsters was trying to find an audience.

The microbudgeted Monsters, from writer-director Gareth Edwards, cost somewhere between $15,000 and $100,000 to make (reports vary, but even at the high end, that's chump change). For that relatively small outlay (Paranormal Activity 2 cost $2.75 million—considered a bargain even at that level, while Saw 3D cost $17 million), the results are impressive, but overall the film is unsatisfying. Just judging the quality and meaning of the story, Monsters is perplexing—and maybe just a little bit frustrating.

Kaulder (Scoot McNairy) is a photojournalist called to fetch his boss's daughter, a biologist stranded in Mexico. The daughter, Sam (Whitney Able), is eager to return home to her fiancé, and Kaulder wants to deliver Sam safely and focus on his other responsibilities. Among those is his relationship to his own child, whom he sees rarely and with whom he hopes to cultivate a deeper connection.

But their journey home won't be easy. Years earlier, a NASA probe carrying some form of alien life crashed in Central America, unleashing giant squid-like monsters that roam the land. The authorities have put half of Mexico under quarantine and designated it as an infected zone.

Kaulder plans to pay for Sam's ferry ride around the infected zone, but a one-night stand with someone he meets at the local watering hole leads to the loss of crucial information needed for the trip. The only option is to travel with Sam on foot through the infected zone, where unknown dangers lurk.

The duo is led by a team of nondescript guides, none of whom are given much to do. That makes them easily expendable, and when the creatures finally show up, they make quick work of the men.

Sam and Kaulder are left to make their way to America on their own, fighting physical threats that include aliens, border fences and other obstacles designed to keep them out of the United States. There's also the matter of their growing attraction to one another. A final encounter with otherworldly creatures delivers more visual spectacle in five minutes than the other 90 minutes combined, but ends on a note that feels solemn when it's meant to be poetic.

Nevertheless, the film's conclusion isn't entirely out of keeping with the story's somber tone. Writer-director Gareth Edwards sets up a premise that promises special-effects monsters but settles quickly into a character drama with a social message. The problem is that the characters aren't particularly memorable, nor is the story's message entirely clear. If Monsters wants to be an allegory about how we treat outsiders, it pales next to last year's District 9. If it wants to be a monster movie, it lacks the thrills of Cloverfield or The Host (both of which had much bigger budgets, obviously, but which were more effective at creating tension and delivering thrills).

Although it could have resulted in a unique hybrid of different styles, Monsters is unique more for its failure to generate any well-earned emotions—or thrills. Better to rent one of those previously mentioned films, which work much better on their own terms, than to try to make do with something that doesn't quite come together.



Questions? Comments? Contact the writer at crosswalkchristian@hotmail.com.

CAUTIONS:

  • Language/Profanity:  The "f" word; "my God."

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  • Smoking/Drinking/Drugs:  Kaulder takes an unidentified pill; tequila and other alcoholic beverages are discussed and consumed.

  • Sex/Nudity:  Kaulder wakes up next to a woman he met the night before, and we see only her arms and legs protruding from beneath a sheet; Sam emerges from a shower, wrapped in a towel; Kaulder runs outside in his underwear.

  • Violence/Crime:  Explosions, gunfire, dead bodies.

  • Religion/Morals:  Kaulder asks Sam if she's married, and when she tells him she's engaged, he asks, "What's the difference?"; Kaulder expresses no regrets about taking pictures of dead bodies, saying it's his job to document the deaths; Kaulder is father to a child he doesn't see often.