Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Monsters (2010)

Monsters should have been a better movie. It starts with a great premise - something between The War of the Worlds and District 9. Years after an extraterrestrial invasion claims a strip of land separating the United States from Mexico, two strangers have to hotfoot it through the infected zone to get home. The cinematography is beautiful - featuring many picturesque landscapes of untouched Mexican jungle (just south of the U.S. border), and also a fair share of post-apocalyptic panoramas of destroyed civilization. The creature effects are similarly beautiful - showcasing giant, floating, luminescent octopodes.

Monsters is a little hard to pin down. It's not, in fact, a found footage film, but - technically, and thematically - it feels very much like one. Yet the focus is really not on surviving the monsters. The way the film is put together, you get the feeling that the most poignant moments are the ones between the two main characters, which makes the movie feel more like a depressing romance than a horror. But the characters are utterly unlikable people, with not very inspiring dialogue, so it's very hard to follow the romantic developments or even really care about them much at all.

Then there's the photojournalism theme. The main character is a photojournalist who makes a living shooting tragedy. There are some comments in the movie that seem to cast aspersions on courting disaster for a paycheck, and when things get their most exciting, the photojournalist conspicuously puts his camera way, despite being the last person in the world (being a photojournalist) who would cave to sensationalist drudge of that sort (obviously it's to court the female, because not shooting a dead little girl that would earn you $50,000 is going to win the heart of the girl you so callously replaced with a hooker the drunken night before when she wouldn't cave to your insensitive hints that you wanted to sleep with her)...

But what this movie avoids are the more difficult questions about why these things make good stories, and why people who follow them are actually justified in what they do. By the time the credits roll, you're left feeling like maybe the "monsters" are just a metaphor for something, but it's not at all clear as to what that is. I'm certainly not against unconventional narrative approaches - like using an extraterrestrial invasion to tell a love story - but here it comes off in the end feeling very underwhelming.

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