Friday, November 19, 2010

Movie Review: Monsters

Monsters, directed by Gareth Edwards, is a fascinating experiment in low-budget, guerrilla-style film making, but it’s about as fun to watch as an experiment in cleaning pennies with various household chemicals. In both experiments, you watch it for an hour and NOTHING HAPPENS.

There are approximately thirty minutes of anything interesting happening in this Monsters; it would have made a powerful short film instead of a glacial full length feature. Subtlety works in short doses or between action sequences, but the human story between Samantha (Whitney Able) and Andrew (Scoot McNairy) is spread so thin over the 94 minute running time it’s practically invisible.

As for the monsters themselves, the effects are convincing enough for a micro budget movie, but I question the alien design choice. You know how in District 9 the aliens looked sort of like anthropomorphic lobsters, and thus were nickname prauns? Well, the monsters in Monsters are straight up six story tall giant land octopuses. At times they’re eerie, but other times they’re just hilarious. Especially when they moo. Seriously, it’s a riot.

In the social awareness department, Monsters offers us a glimpse into the lives of the downtrodden citizens of Mexico. As if living in a narco-state and dealing with attacks from giant land octopuses wasn’t enough, the Mexican people also live in fear of the American military periodically gas-bombing the countryside in the hopes of eradicating monster eggs. The legality of this is intentionally left vague, and by the end of the movie we feel a much closer attachment to the downtrodden citizenry than to the white tourists trying to get home. Too bad all we get is a “oh, poor Mexicans” from the protagonists before they move on to another scenic vista to stare at while holding the plot for ransom.

All three of these plot threads feel like backup stories. Monsters isn’t a monster movie with a love story, or a love story with monsters, or a social commentary with a love story or monsters, or a commentary on social love monsters (?) or anything at all. It’s awful when a film bludgeons you over the head with plot points or a political agenda, but by the end of Monsters I was begging for somebody to try and convince me of something. Do giant land octopuses eat people, or are they just inconsiderate neighbors? Is the American government acting in cooperation with the Mexican government with the gas bombs? Are the bombs killing more people than the giant land octopuses? Is Sam just flaky or is there a good reason why she’s not looking forward to seeing her fiancee? A lot of things are implied, but nothing is ever explained. I’m fine with throwing my own interpretations at a film to see what bounces back, but the only thing that bounces back is a glow-in-the-dark giant land octopus love ballet. Oh yeah, the giant land octopuses glow in the dark. That was pretty cool.

Don’t be fooled by reviews praising this movie. Monsters is not an “art film.” Monsters is a “boring film.” I’ve never checked my watch so many times during a movie. If you want to see the best looking $500,000 sci-fi film with one action sequence (maybe one point five, if you count implied action) spread over an hour and a half, watch Monsters. If you want to actually enjoy a sci-fi movie with a decent social critique, watch District 9.

And before some smart alec calls me out on using “octopuses” instead of “octopi”:

Merriam-Webster’d!!! I wish I was British so I could say “octopodes” without feeling like a tool.

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