We all grow up with different irrational fears driving us to worry and question. As children, most of us imagined some ghoulish monster living in our closets or underneath our bed. Unknown noises and shadows would lead us to hypothesize ridiculous theories about what might be lurking around the corner. As we grow older, we realize that these monsters don’t really exist, but for some reason we continue to create irrational explanations and snap judgments for things that frighten us, things that are unfamiliar, or unpredictable. The need to control our lives has caused us to create new monsters, most recently of the terrorist variety. Fears about this foreign enemy have led us to close our borders, building up walls to keep these immigrants at bay. What we seem to have lost sight of is the humanity of these people, a group vilified for the most irrational of generalizations. It is with this notion of metaphorical monsters that director Gareth Edwards has created a fictional world of literal monsters to mirror our behavior. Monsters is a poignant journey of fun and frights that ultimately causes us to fear our own forgone conclusions over anything else.
The monster movie genre has seen a revival of sorts over the past few years, with Bong Joon-ho’s fantastic The Host, JJ Abrams 9/11 modeled Cloverfield, and alien/monster films The Mist and District 9. In their own unique way, each of these films address a unique social ill, or political statement which carry heavy weight over their mutant antagonists. Monsters does this by taking the familiar and presenting it in a way that is quite literally alien to its audience. Set entirely in rural Mexico, the film follows photojournalist Andrew on assignment in the Infected Zone, an area swarming with large alien monsters. It’s explained that these creatures are water breeding aliens from the moon Europa, but their origins are not necessarily important. What is important is the fact that they multiply yearly, migrating to the mainland to wreak havoc on the populace. The US military maintains a strong presence in the Infected area, blowing up the creatures, as well as most of Mexico in the process. It is for this reason that Andrew is in country, a war-reporter covering the large scale invasion.
Andrew is tasked with the unglamorous job of escorting his bosses daughter, Samantha, back to the states. Unfortunately, the battle is on, so the only way for Andrew and Samantha to travel north is to move back through the Infected Zone, relying on border “coyotes” to guide them across the dangerous land. Along their way they encounter remnants of military hardware, destroyed villages, the occasional monster, and candlelight vigils honoring the thousands killed in the bloody battles. While there’s really not much of a story here, there is a great deal of thought put into every bit of action. Filmed entirely on location in Mexico, Monsters has an authentic look that drives the sincerity of the tense atmosphere Edwards has created.
Created with genuine indie spirit, there was no script to lay out the structure and dialogue, but rather a series of paragraphs describing the action. All of the acting was improvised, so each take of a scene was different than the last. The effects are generally good for a film with an under a million dollar budget, however the look and movement of the monsters themselves seemed a bit too overdone. I don’t know why, but brightly colored, tentacle dangling creatures seem to be the go to look for big monster films nowadays (see The Mist). While it seems that special effects may have been the motivation for making this movie, choosing story as a secondary idea, I still think it’s a solid film with an intelligent grounding in current events.
Who has the greater impact on Mexico, the monsters or the US army? This is a question Gareth Edwards no doubt wants us to ponder. Collateral damage is high, mostly from the shock-and-awe tactics of the American military complex, and their careless use of chemical warfare over highly populated areas. Monsters is Edwards take on the Iraq war, and US Immigration Policy. We go through so much trouble trying to keep people from invading our borders that we in turn invade theirs. When Andrew and Samantha finally reach the massive concrete walls along the US border, they become less interested in entering back into the walled-in false security of their home. America looks like a fortress from their position on the border, but once they enter, they notice empty streets where battles had at one point spilled over. The emptiness is filled as two huge monsters mate near a gas station, Andrew and Samantha looking on in awe. Maybe, on these empty streets in America, the real monsters were gone.