Lowdown: A man and a woman have to pass through an alien infested area in order to return from Mexico to the USA.
Here’s a philosophical question for you: can a science fiction film worthy of finding its way to Blu-rays be created on a very tight budget and still be good? Alright, maybe that question is not that deep, with films as good as Moon already giving us an answer. Monsters is far from being Moon good, but it’s a very decent science fiction film by its own rights. And it was obviously made on a very low budget.
In the not too distant future, a satellite crashing back on earth brings alien viruses back with it. These quickly develop into monsters that infest the area around the USA-Mexico border, giving a lot of things for the American army to occupy itself with and leading the USA to erect a huge wall along its border to prevent monsters’ infiltration. As the slides informing the viewer that just sat down to watch Monster of the above fade, you will meet Monsters’ two chief protagonists: Andrew (Scoot McNairy), a photojournalist anxious to get a proper monster shot; and Sam (Whitney Able), the attractive daughter of the Andrew’s rich publisher. Both are American, and both are currently in Mexico. However, with a large military operation about to start, an operation that will prevent the about to get married Sam from returning home any time soon, Andrew is ordered to abandon his photography and make sure Sam comes back home as soon as possible.
While Andrew is attracted to Sam, and while there are signs Sam is not particularly in love with her soon to be husband, he is less than excited with the task of chaperoning a woman away from his monsters. Through one accident and another, the pair find themselves stuck in third world circumstances that imply their homecoming would have to expose them to more of the infected area’s monsters than they would have liked.
Contrary to expectations, Monsters is not a horror film. There was one entirely artificial “make you jump” moment when a boat’s motor is started, but other than that you rarely see the aliens. The Aliens you do see are the product of cheap digital effects, of a quality roughly similar to the very first film sporting digital effects: James Cameron’s The Abyss. It is clear the aliens are there to represent the unfamiliar stranger on the other side of the fence rather than monsters per se. It is also clear the entire story of Americans, Mexicans, large walls along the border and monsters in between is an analogy to the current state of affairs along the USA-Mexico border.
Monsters takes pride in taking us over the wall and showing us what is on the other side: people like us; people suffering of what “our” army does to them as it bombs innocent people while trying to get the monsters; and monsters with their own type of beauty. Shape aside the monsters are probably not different to us and in many ways they are wondrous creatures.
Although I cannot claim much familiarity with the situation between the USA and the Mexicans trying to enter it, I can easily see how the same message applies across many other similar scenarios. Just recently I came back from Israel, where among other experiences I was driven across a relatively new road ("Road #6"), a road that goes right alongside the wall built to divide Israelis from potential West Bank hotspots. Then there is the matter of boat people arriving at Australia and the way the phenomenon is exaggerated by power hungry politicians, thriving on power generated by basic xenophobia. As Monsters puts it, one has to ask oneself who the real monster is.
As nice as its message is, it has to be said that Monsters is less than the most riveting film ever. Indeed, once you get its point - and that happens pretty early on - it becomes quite predictable.
Best scene: Our heroes try to bargain for a way out of Mexico after Sam's passport has been stolen. Having had similar encounters with authorities lacking any interest in helping me, I could really identify with their plight. One can also identify with the plight of those who are stuck living in those places our heroes are anxious to leave behind.
Technical assessment: There can be no mistaking the cheaper production values on display with this Blu-ray. Cameras are very hand held, lighting is typically limited to natural light, and it shows. Still, when that is taken into account, this is not a bad Blu-ray.
Overall: As a film, I would rate Monsters at 3 stars. However, I'll be generous and hand it 3.5 out of 5 stars for managing to produce a piece of science fiction with a very relevant message out of nothing.