Though sci-fi is not quite my jam, monster flicks are, and if you can throw in some sci-fi elements to other genres I love and do them really really well (District 9 comes to mind), then I am game. So I tried Monsters (2010), the film directed by Gareth Edwards before he went on to do Rogue One.
Monsters reminded me a lot of District 9 and The Ruins, in fact, dealing with important contemporary issues like Americans' strange, xenophobic relationship with Mexico, and questions about the nature of borders, both real and artificial. I like that in my genre movies - something that makes you think about the current state of affairs without hitting you over the head with it. That's exactly what happens in this story, where a journalistic photographer, trying to catch the million-dollar shot of the alien creatures that have "infected" Mexico and parts of Central America, has to put that on hold to bring the boss's daughter safely back of over the border.
Along the way, there are dangers from opportunistic humans as well as gigantic extra-terrestrials that decimate whole towns without thinking twice about it. The simple premise of the film, that this is an ongoing state of affairs, is actually quite frightening. It's a simple concept used to maximum effect. Then it's a question of how exactly to get back to America quickly, and whether or not they'll need to pass through the infected zone to do it. As always, money is a factor. If you can't pay, well, then you go the hard way. And just because you paid today doesn't mean your money is good tomorrow. Or that the border official will remember that you already paid him.
Such scenes had great tension without the mention of aliens, and I found the parallels to the current dangers of immigration very intelligent and timely. Those moments were, in fact, my favorite part of the film for that very reason.
That's not to say, however, that the monsters weren't awesome. Because they were. The design was really streamlined and visually appealing, I think the scale was just right to elicit the "holy shit how is this not on lock-down already" reaction, and I especially liked that along with the big creatures, we also see them on a smaller scale, as a form of illuminated, reactive fungus. I thought that made real organic sense to what might be believably extra-terrestrial, and how such things would interact with established environments in the real world.
There were lots of powerful moments in the film, both with the aliens and without, that showcased the directorial skill at work- scenes that, if shown another way, would not have had as strong an impact. I think specifically about two phone calls that were spliced together to contrast the backgrounds of the characters who have been thrown together, and how these events are simultaneously changing their lives in different ways. There was something direct and straightforward about the film-making that was immensely appealing, showing me what I needed to see, how I needed to see it, in order to best appreciate it. It's a thoughtfulness that is all too rare these days, and it was refreshing.
My only regret in this film was the ending - I wish it had pushed a little further, shown a little further into the story. I suppose that says something about the storytelling, doesn't it?
K. Rating: 4/5