MonstersAn almost-good movie with a richly imagined metaphor about giant monsters loose in Mexico. Sadly, the film is ultimately done in by an uneventful and scare-free narrative.

MONSTERS (2010) was the feature directorial debut of special effects ace Gareth Edwards. Made for a reported $800,000, MONSTERS was filmed on location in Mexico, with a largely improvised narrative and cinematography and special effects handled by Edwards himself. The finished film was critically lauded (Stephen King put it on his 2010 year-end best list) but, unsurprisingly, not a huge (or even moderate) commercial hit.

Six years ago a NASA probe containing samples of alien life crashed in Mexico. As a result, half the country has been declared an “Infected Zone.” In this zone giant octopus-like alien creatures roam.

Kaulder, an American photojournalist, is in Mexico hoping to get a photograph of one of the monsters. He’s charged with helping Sam, a recently engaged blonde tourist, across the border by her wealthy American father (who happens to be Sam’s boss). Unfortunately Kaulder’s initial attempt at booking Sam on a black-market fairy fails after his luggage, containing her passport, is stolen. Sam ends up hawking her engagement ring to finance a boat ride through the Infected Zone. The trip is uneventful until they reach the U.S. border, where a massive wall has been constructed.

Unfortunately Kaulder and Sam find the wall has been breached. Furthermore, U.S. border patrol officers are nowhere to be found and the nearest town has been razed. Entering an abandoned gas station, Kaulder and Sam phone their respective loved ones, not realizing they’re about to be caught in a deadly crossfire of monsters and trigger-happy military men.

With this film writer-director Gareth Edwards spins a potent, if somewhat derivative (Andrei Tarkovksy’s STALKER was an evident influence), metaphor about post-9/11 America and the violence that has engulfed Mexico’s border towns—and the fear that said violence might spill over into the U.S. To this end Edwards has created an extremely well-imagined alternate universe with its own laws and regulations, and seasons it with some astounding low budget special effects: the walking octopus monsters are appropriately imposing, and the climactic sight of the giant wall straddling the Mexico-U.S. border is simply amazing. Furthermore, the performances of Scoot McNairy and the fetching Whitney Able are impressively unaffected and naturalistic.

So what then is the problem? Quite simply, the film, despite its many virtues, fails completely as a thriller, being consistently uninvolving and not a little dull. Edwards appears to have been seduced by Mexico’s colorful décor and citizenry, resulting in a semi-documentary travelogue that gives the monsters of the title short shift. The critters don’t even turn up until the final 20 minutes, and then have very little to do.

Vital Statistics

Vertigo Films

Director/Screenwriter/Cinematographer: Gareth Edwards
Producers: Allan Nibo, James Richardson
Editing: Colin Goudie
Cast: Scoot McNairy, Whitney Able, Mario Zuniga Benavides, Annalee Jeffries, Justin Hall, Ricky Catter, Paul Archer, Kerry Valderrama, Jonathan Winnford, Stan Wong, Anthony Cristo