18 March 2011

Movies: Monsters

Monsters (2010) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1470827/

Potential life in our solar system was collected by a NASA probe and returned to Earth six years ago. The probe broke up over Mexico during reentry.  Soon after, strange creatures began 'infecting' the land.  Mexico and the U.S. walled off the area, the Infected Zone, and are fighting a losing battle to contain the creatures.

A photographer named Andrew finally got his assignment to the southern Mexico / Central America region to photograph the creatures in the wild, to document their annual migration. After a hotel in Central America was attacked by one of the creatures Andrew is tasked by his boss to locate the owner of the publication's daughter Samantha, who was staying at the hotel.  He finds her at a local hospital, her arm sprained, so he calls in to tell them she's fine. He's then ordered to get her to the coast and on a ferry back to the States by the publication owner himself.  We follow their journey back to the states as they try to return before all travel is shut down due to increased activity by the creatures.

A low-budget sci-fi film shot with an outline, little script, and shaped by location and opportunities, with locals that happen to be around filling out the 'extras' cast. Despite the scriptless guerrilla film making I didn't think it was that bad of a film, whereas the wife found it a little bit plodding. This isn't a Michael Bay-ish explosion fest filled with cast members that drag us from explosion to explosion. Instead we follow two folks who just met, are trying to get back to the states, have their own problems and goals, slowly tease information out of each other during their trek.  The creatures only come out at night, thus suspense scenes come about at night, when actually seeing the creatures is a rarity.  Most times we just see parts flailing about.

What I liked was the details in the backgrounds of various locations.  Giant containment fences that stretch for miles. We see murals depicting US and Mexican forces attacking the creatures. We see signs along roads indicating how far places are from the Infected Zone, or which roads are cut off by the zone. Anywhere there is a TV there is either news stories about the most recent battles with the monsters, a little bit about the history of the invasion, or there are cartoons teaching children to put on their gas-masks whenever the creatures are near and the military planes are attacking them. It's a way of life that the locals just accept and live their lives despite the dangers.

I'm not exactly sure where the 100ft tall creatures hide during the day, but there are constant air patrols day and night. I'm also not sure why the two have to take a train to the coast then attempt to get on a ferry, as opposed to some form of commercial air travel.  I don't recall any exposition in dialog or background news report explaining why air travel isn't possible. We can see evidence that the creatures have taken down low flying military aircraft, but that doesn't explain why flights at 30,000+ft don't happen.  Maybe I missed that detail, perhaps one of the background TVs touched on the subject.

There really isn't much of a story - just the two people trying to get back to the States and what they encounter along the way. Their conversations don't have much bearing on anything, they just seem to be conversations between strangers to pass the time as they head where they are going and deliver snippets of whatever greater issues they have going on in their lives outside of the trek. Giant creatures happen.  At least the CGI isn't intrusive, seemed to meld well with the environments.  It pretty much works as a handheld-filmed 'documentary' set in the context of the creatures that spawned after the probe breakup.  Nothing seemed to crush the suspension of disbelief.

The film may seem a little slow at times, the monsters seem to be more of a backdrop than the focus. It is subdued, but I thought it was paced well for the style movie it is. I liked it as little-scripted films go and thought it was better accomplished than other films of similar construction, Blair Witch Project or Paranormal Activity as examples. Seems to be a 'like it or hate it' movie for viewers - seems to be split down the middle for RottenTomatoes viewer ratings.

As sci-fi films go I appreciated that the sci-fi component wasn't the whole purpose of the story, instead more like an environment for the story to unfold within. Sometimes less is more, and IMO this worked well for this film. I was entertained enough for the experience.

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