Thursday, 18 June 2015
There's quite a bit to like in Monsters, but the characters aren't one of those things.
We'll discuss why I didn't warm to the two leads at the same time as we address the film's other main flaw: a plot hole large enough to make a home for one of the titular creatures. But first, some background.
The premise of the film is that NASA discovered signs of alien life in the solar system and sent a probe to investigate. On its return to Earth however, the probe broke up in the atmosphere above northern Mexico. Soon after, otherworldly creatures – think of walking octopi as big as a house – began to appear, and parts of Mexico and the US became a no-go "Infected Zone". Being outside the zone is not itself a guarantee of safety however, as the monsters sometimes venture out.
One such incursion initiates the film's story arc. Among the injured is Samantha, the daughter of a media baron. Andrew, a photojournalist working for Sam's father, is in the area and is ordered to ensure she is safely returned to the US. He's not keen on the idea – he wants to stay and take a front page photo, but the threat to his job induces him to agree.
And here we see the first problem: Andrew is an ass. While we will see over time that he has some regard for Sam's safety, his initial motivations for helping her are entirely selfish, and he continues to act like a jerk. For instance, he makes a series of increasingly creepy passes at Sam – then nonpologises for it by blaming the fact he'd been drinking. Sam, for her part, spends much of the early part of the film being very listless and passive, which made it hard for me to warm to her.
Andrew's plan is for the two of them to travel by train to the coast, where he will put Sam on a ferry to the US. And here we get to the big plot hole. Why, given that Sam has a wealthy father who is actively attempting to get her home, is the plan not to put her on a plane? I can accept that there are no non-military flights allowed over the infected zone (not that the film says this), but it would be easy enough to fly her to Cancun, and from there to Florida and safety. The script simply ignores the option, never mentioning why it was not used, or why – when Andrew's plan starts to unravel – they don't get on the phone to Sam's father and ask for help.
So there are pretty significant plot issues at work here, which is shame because, as I said at the start, there's quite a bit to like here. First, they found some visually arresting and interesting places to make the film. It's been a while since I so enjoyed a film purely for the locations in which it was shot. Second, the titular monsters are great: they're dangerous and they're eerie and they're a little bit wondrous, all at once. Third, the two central actors do a good job (it's a shame they play such unlikeable people). Fourth, the film has a good atmosphere. It feels authentic in a way many films don't. Possibly this is because it was more or less done guerrilla style. It was mostly filmed with whomever the filmmakers happened to meet at the locations they found to shoot in, and they rarely had permission to be shooting there to begin with.
Ultimately, I've given Monsters a qualified recommendation. It has some deep and disappointing flaws, but part of what makes them disappointing is how many other things it gets right.