Blu Ray Review: "Monsters"

Opening in Central America six years in the future, "Monsters" drops us into a reality in which most of Mexico has been overrun by alien monsters, the result of NASA probe that crashed while carrying martian samples. Mexico is termed the "Infected Zone" and each year, the aliens, which look like giant octopuses (octopi?), undergo a migration, causing some of the border towns in both Central America and the U.S. to be abandoned for a season. In the middle of all this is Andrew (Scoot McNairy), a cynical photo journalist looking for a shot of a live alien, who is forced to escort his bosses' daughter, Samantha (Whitney Able), back to safety. Things go awry when Andrew fails to get Samantha onto a ferry and the pair is forced to travel over land and through the Infected Zone which results in a fight for survival and challenges Andrew's overall outlook on life.

"District 9" and "Moon", both part of the vaunted class of 2009, set the standard for low budget, high quality sci-fi and reignited Hollywood's interest in the genre as a whole. "Monsters" takes the "low budget" to a new level. Whereas "District 9" was made for around $30 million and "Moon" was done for $5 million, "Monsters" came in at a shockingly low $800,000. The entire cast consists of McNairy and Able and locals who were paid $20 to appear in a movie. Gareth Edwards, now regarded as a hot up-and-coming filmmaker, wrote, directed, edited, and shot this film himself. When you consider all of that, "Monsters" is an absurd achievement.

"Monsters" has an excellent story to tell and some very cool concepts that will undoubtedly lend themselves to a big-budgeted sequel in the near future. The special effects are a bit lacking but only in that the aliens don't appear on screen as much as I would have liked. Then again, given the money spent on this film, it seems to me that Edwards made the very responsible decision to limit the CGI shots and make them good rather than load the film with schlocky, B movie aliens. Kudos for that. The suspense is well built, too, and I got the feeling that if I'd seen this in a dark theater instead of my living room I would have been on edge. "Monsters" is perhaps over-ambitious at times: the inevitable twist is somewhat convoluted and forced me to go back and review some of the early shots. (That could be on me, though, as I was ADDing all over the place last week.) The final reveal of the aliens is cool but not quite as impactful as I would have hoped. And the actors, particularly Able, are only adequate though about what you would expect for what they were paid. All that said, however, doesn't erase the fact that Edwards crafted a quality sci-fi flick for the cost of catering on a blockbuster set. A good movie and a worthwhile viewing.

Grade: B+