This is a repost of a review that ran earlier this year during TIFF 2010. The film is in limited release starting this week.
It seems that we're in the midst of a alien invasion movie renaissance. "District 9" brought the genre some prestige by earning some Oscar nods, but it's hard to imagine its success had "Cloverfield" not opened the door, and with films like "Skyline" and "Battle: Los Angeles" on the horizon it seems there is no end in sight. With "Monsters" hitting TIFF in advance of its VOD premiere later in the month and a limited theatrical bow in October, judging by the trailers and clips that have hit the web playing up its sexier aspects, it would seem that the film falls into well worn territory. But refreshingly, Gareth Edwards' debut feature film offers a slight twist, using the subject of an alien invasion to create a unique road movie.
The film takes place in a slightly modified present day, six years after a NASA probe carrying alien life from within our solar system has crashed in Mexico, unleashing a number of violent creatures. A large part of northern Mexico has been walled in and labeled as an Infected Zone in an effort to keep the aliens from pouring across the border into the United States. Andy (Scoot McNairy), a photojournalist working south of the Infected Zone, is tasked by the owner of the publication he works for to escort his daughter Sam (Whitney Able), who is also in the area, to the coast so she can get on a ferry headed back to the safety of the United States. Time is running out as reports of increased attacks will soon cause access to the waterways to be closed. He grudgingly accepts the task and the two are off.
At first the trip runs smoothly and in no time at all, they reach the coast with no incident. While there are plenty of hints and warnings along the way, which subtly and effectively create a portrait of post-invasion life, the only hurdle they face is the $5000 cost of the ticket. With everything sorted out the duo celebrate, with Andy going particularly hard on the tequila. When he wakes up the next morning, things seem to have gone even better than expected, with an unknown woman naked in his bed. Andy tracks down Sam as she gets ready to board the ferry, only she remembers that he was holding her passport. Andy races back to the motel to find that he's been robbed. With no other options, they strike a deal with the locals to lead them through the Infected Zone to the giant wall where they can cross over into the United States.
What emerges in Edwards film is not a monster movie at all, but a character piece. As they journey home, Sam and Andy are drawn to each other, finding common ground in the emotional baggage they both carry. It's a relationship that's tenderly displayed, helped by fine performances by both McNairy and Able, but also by Edwards direction and script, which develops their story with an intelligence and honesty usually missing from genre films.
But, titled "Monsters" and with promotional materials pointing to a much more action packed film than it actually is (pretty much every major action scene is in the trailer), fanboys anticipating the next "District 9" will be disappointed. But we do hope audiences give it a chance and try to track it down. Edwards brings a fresh eye and original story to the table with an ending that is both poignant and tragic. Edwards had made his calling card with "Monsters." It's a film that not only shows him capable of handling smart genre fare, but also indicates he could just as easily be a strong director of character driven pieces. Surprising and smart, "Monsters" finds something more than creepy critters haunting the night sky. [B]