MOVIE: Monsters (2010)

I was home sick for a couple of days last week, and by the second day, was completely bored out of my skull, as usual.  Figured that called for a splurge, so I headed over to Amazon.com to see if they had any pre-theatrical release flicks to rent (I have a Roku box, which means I can stream movies to my TV set not only from Netflix, but also from Amazon — you need one of these, trust me).

I don’t do the pre-theatrical thing too often, and never for a movie I really, really want to see (why watch it on my little TV when I can just wait and big-screen it?).  But a small-budget alien flick like this one, being favorably compared to District 9 by a bunch of film reviewers?  That sounded pretty perfect for a sick day.

As it turns out, this movie is really nothing at all like District 9, which is both good and bad.

The good:  Monsters dares to strike out and break a little new ground by being an alien movie that isn’t really about the aliens.   Sure, there are aliens in the story, but the movie mainly focuses on the two main characters, reporter Andrew Kaulder and Samantha Wynden, the daughter of his boss, who Andrew’s been ordered to find and bring home after an alien attack took out the South American hotel she’d been staying in.

The bad:  the special effects, while admirable considering the tiny budget and the fact the director did them all himself on his laptop, were, in my opinion, vastly overused.  By which I mean:  used at all. If you can’t afford really good effects, why not simply avoid using effects in the first place?  Sure, they were a key player in District 9 — unavoidable.  But here, with the focus more on the people instead of the monsters?  Just not needed, and frankly, it would’ve been a strong film — not to mention a scarier one —  had it merely threatened to show us the aliens instead of actually going ahead and doing it.  Especially since:  silly spider/octopus War of the Worlds rip-off alien beings and glowing tree fungus are. . . yawn.)

Even more unfortunate than the special effects, though, was the fact there was absolutely no chemistry between the two stars at all, which meant the human part of the story fell about as flat for me as the alien part.   After Andrew finds Sam, he spends the first day sullenly ordering her around, bitter he’s been pulled off a far more exciting assignment to babysit the boss’s daughter.  But as they struggle to find a way to get back to the U.S. together, through stress and danger, they gradually begin to fall in love.  Eventually, everything goes completely awry (lost passports, time running out, etc.) and they discover the only way they can get back to the U.S. is to walk there, right through the infected zone (where the monsters live!).

Cue many, many scenes of them traipsing through the jungle, hearing the ominous sounds of evil aliens in the trees all around them, clinging to each other for safety, sometimes alllllmost smooching.  But not quite!  Not quite!  Sexual tension here!  We got your sexual tension here!

Fine in theory, but in practice, I found Andrew completely boring.  When he talks at all, it’s in a monotonous, sleepy, whining sort of way.  And Sam?  Well,  Sam is pretty  kick-ass by comparison, and I didn’t believe for a minute she was falling in love with that snoozer.  Even when the story featured a really heavy-handed romantic moment, it just fell completely flat.  The actor playing Andrew  did absolutely nothing for me — he was primarily just getting in Sam’s way.

That said, obviously I watched the whole thing, which means I found it at least sufficiently entertaining, if heavily flawed.  And for what it is, it’s not that bad.  It’s watchable and some of the alien stuff was intriguing, if undeveloped (they have predictable migratory patterns?  that have suddenly changed this year?).

Had writer/director Gareth Edwards done a better job with casting and let go of his desire to monkey around with his Macbook, this would’ve been a much stronger film, and one that was unique enough in the genre to really stand out.

As it is, it’s not a bad time, but it’s probably not worth the ten bucks I spent on it.  Save it for a post-theatrical release DVD rental instead.  Is my suggestion.

[Prequeue at Netflix | View trailer | Rent at Amazon.com]

Genre:  Science Fiction, Aliens
Cast:  Whitney Able, Scoot McNairy

Tags: , ,

11 Responses to “MOVIE: Monsters (2010)”

  1. Trip Says:

    DAMN I had high hopes for this one. There just isn’t enough indie sci-fi going around these days, and this looked like it might be another [REC] surprise pleasure.

    Oh well, I need more Netflix Instant Queue fluff for later anyway.

  2. megwood Says:

    Well, you know, lots of critics liked it better than I did (though I do think more than one involved praise that went like this: “It’s not bad for what it is”). But yeah, it fell kind of flat for me, for sure. Still, might be better on the big screen. Might be better when you’re not sick and cranky, as I was.

    I do like the name “Scoot McNary,” mind you. I’m afraid the aliens will still look totally lame either way, however.

  3. Ailsa Barr Says:

    How interesting that you thought the leads had no chemistry because they’re a real life couple – he was cast first and suggested his girlfriend for the other role. Hope they don’t read your review, they’ll be gutted!

  4. megwood Says:

    REALLY?!?!?! Hmm. In that case, I guess blame the script instead of the actors? Or blame it on the fact I was sleepy and felt crappy? Or blame it on the fact WHY ARE YOU PEOPLE LISTENING TO ME ANYWAY?

  5. rhsmith Says:

    We came upon this last night on TV, some HD channel we’d never stopped on before, and kept watching expecting it to cut out… and it never did. There’s a little too much Herzogian “wonder of the desolation” as they motor upriver – there were interesting touches here and there and I liked the slack of it… but it’s more of a curio than a must-see.

  6. RogerBW Says:

    All Hail the Meg, Whose entertainment choices become ours.

    (We are all individuals.)

  7. Liz Says:

    WHAT HE SAID!

  8. briantoohey Says:

    Funny you thought there was no chemistry… the two leads met on the set, fell in love, and are now married! I think the bigger problem is that they’re simply both shut-down, L.A. douchebag-types. I actually saw Monsters at the one theatre where it was playing in L.A., the Nuart, and will eventually have a review up… in about a week and a half. I’m attempting to do about 2-3 reviews per day for the next 3 weeks, have a lot to catch up on. Just got my review of The Social Network posted! 🙂

  9. megwood Says:

    It takes more than love in real life to create love on the big screen, people. I can think of countless movies starring real-life couples who fell totally flat on camera — Eyes Wide Shut, Gigli, anything starring Reese Witherspoon and whoever it is she’s dating these days, etc.

  10. mark Says:

    Glad I didn’t listen to this review, I never do most reviewers don’t see the movies they just copy paste what top critics say!

    Awesome movie, looks great and made for next to nothing this director is going places.

  11. Meg Says:

    I did see the movie, and I stand by my opinion. Thanks for sharing yours! I’m glad you enjoyed the film!

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