Saturday, February 26, 2011


I had read many good things about this film when it was released last September and then again in December to a very small number of theaters from anyone who was lucky enough to actually see it. Much was made of how small the budget was and how director Garth Edwards virtually made this film on his own. Garth wrote the script, was the cameraman/cinematographer and also created the over 250 visual effects for Monsters, so the success of this intimate science fiction film wrests squarely on his shoulders. Fortunately, Mr. Edwards’ gamble to not only keep total creative control of Monsters to himself, but to shoot this film guerrilla style in Belize, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico and Texas paid off with a film that makes the alien elements of Monsters look almost as real as their terrestrial counterparts.

A simple text crawl sets up the back story at the beginning of Monsters. This story takes place six years after a NASA probe that contained samples of alien life forms from an unspecified area of space, crash lands in Central America and soon begins infecting the local fauna with its alien plant life and other things. The US and Mexican governments cordon off a large area of Mexico by building a wall along both sides of the “Infected Zone” from coast to coast. Monsters’ first scene shows a brief fight between the US Army and the tentacled alien creatures that will feature more prominently later in the film.

The real story begins when we meet an American photographer and journalist who is called by his employer to escort an American tourist back to the States. Andrew discovers that his consignment is the daughter of his employer, who has gone walkabout over anxiety over her impending wedding. Andrew buys he and Samantha passage by train to the coast, where they hope to get a ship to the States and bypass the Infected Zone. They manage to purchase tickets for the boat ride, but Andrew, who gets drunk the night before they ship out, is robbed by a local girl who not only steals the rest of his money, but also both of their passports. As a result, they miss their boat and are forced to pay for an armed escort through the Infected Zone.

Initially, they make it through without too much trouble. When they begin traveling on a small river boat, they are attacked by one of the alien creatures and the craft is destroyed. They make it to shore and are fortunate enough to hitch a ride with a local militia. Unfortunately, they too are attacked by the creatures on the road and the American couple now find themselves traveling alone in the alien infested territory. With only each other for companionship and protection, Sam and Andy grow from strangers to friends to something more.

The film concludes with the young couple finding their way to the relative safety of the United States, but all is not what they had hoped for.

Monsters is an unusual film for its type. Instead of focusing on the drama of the humans surviving the alien creatures and the harsh environment, it concentrates on the relationship of Andrew and Samantha. This is very much a personal drama and not a science fiction drama. Despite this, I found myself drawn to these very real characters and engrossed in their struggle to survive not only their exterior problems, but their internal conflicts as well. I think this would make a good film to introduce a non-genre fan to science fiction, because it feels so much like real world drama that only happens to have an otherworldly antagonist. I also liked the way the film took the time to establish the political structure of the world that these characters inhabit. We not only see the towering wall that separates the Infected Zone from the rest of the world and the soldiers and military fighting the alien creatures, but we also see the everyday lives of the ordinary people whose lives have been altered by living in such close proximity to these alien creatures.

Science fiction film directors who are creating the bombastic and special effects laden movies of late [see: Skyline], would do well to follow the example of Monsters and take the time to develop their characters. That way, when these characters come into contact with the science fictional elements of their film, the viewer will become more involved in the fantastic, as opposed to being detached from and removed from these elements.

Monsters is deserving of any science fiction film fan’s time. Go out of your way to watch it as soon as you can!


  1. Well Doc, I've been on and off the fence on this one for a long time. I really have. I've been uncertain of whether I should buy into the hype because in less auspicious, non-major media circles there have been some unfavorable reviews of the film and well I'm just torn.

    It's good to hear you enjoyed this one. It has been on my watch list and perhaps I'll make the move. Some of the aspects of the film you described are the kinds of things I enjoy in a film.

    If it's like those 28days zombie films I suspect it would be a solid good film.

    Thanks for the write up on this Doc. Great to get your input on it.

  2. Thanks for checking in Sci-Fi Fanatic! I can understand your reluctance to “buy into the hype” of Monsters. I was aware of the number of reviewers who thought this film was groundbreaking and tried not to let their opinions influence my judgment of it. If anything, that type of reaction to a small independent film makes me less likely to be open to enjoying a film than the other way around.

    I had a difficult time writing this review of Monsters, because quite frankly it is not the kind of film – especially science fiction film – which I customarily enjoy. The emphasis is definitely on the human drama, with the science fictional components being there as a way of showing how they affect these characters’ lives specifically and the other characters’ lives in the film peripherally. I do enjoy the “bombastic and special effects laden movies” that I mentioned in my review for the most part. But lately these Hollywood extravaganzas have forgotten that good stories require more than just CGI “eye candy” and have really forsaken character and story. I think that my positive reaction to Monsters is as much a reaction to these films as anything else.

    I am not a fan of the 28 Days Later/28 Weeks Later films, but even if I was I wouldn’t compare Monsters tonality to them. Even though Monsters is not necessarily a positive film, it does show humans coping with a very difficult situation and not just reacting to it like 28 Days Later. The only recent film that I would compare it to vis-à-vis would be District 9, even though in that film the aliens are sentient and are being contained by the world government in a less violent manner. BTW: I did like District 9, but like Monsters, I would not bother to buy either one on disc, because I doubt I’d watch either film more than once.

    You’re welcome, S-F F! I will continue to watch and all the new SF, as well as Fantasy and Horror films, as they are released and review the films that I think are worth watching.