Monsters (2010 movie) review…

Monsters (2010 movie) review after the break…

Monsters (2010 movie) review…

In the movie “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” the character Indiana Jones, upon throwing a torch down into a seemingly dark pit, is horrified that the pit is slithering with what he fears most: Snakes. Indiana Jones rolls over onto his back and moans, “Snakes… Why did it have to be snakes?” [Geek points if you can remember the immediate responding remark: “Asps. Very dangerous. You go first.”]

I’m beginning to feel a bit like Indiana Jones but not concerning the phobia of snakes in places that I do not desire them to be in but, instead, of women in movies that have no story-driven reason for them to exist. “Monsters,” a 2010 movie, is just one of several films where the lead female is far from necessary for the story to be successful. I’m not anti-woman, I’m just anti-bloat and, in “Monsters,” the character of Samantha Wynden is absolutely useless.

“Monsters” has a very intriguing premise – 6 years has passed in a near-future where large, alien octopi (or “octopuses,” if you will) roam Northern Mexico with near impunity. Think of these creatures as large, animal versions of the alien tripods from the recent movie, “War of the Worlds.” This invasive species is not being contained and threatens both southern Mexico as well breaching the border of the United States. A photographer is forced to escort the feisty adult daughter of the boss that the photographer works for from the “safe” part of Mexico back to the United States. Not a hard task, right? Well, it becomes a hard task when the pair miss the final ferry out and are forced to go through the “Infected Zone” towards America. Obviously, the trip is far from safe.

“Monsters” is a compelling movie mainly because it sells it’s premise so effectively – Everywhere the camera looks, there are subtle and not-so-subtle signs that the invasive creatures have irreversibly altered the Mexican landscape. Signs tell people to put their gas masks on. Large, imposing fences are everywhere. Numerous memorials of people killed by the creatures as they expand their terrain. Military sorties fly overhead. Whole skyscrapers papered over by vegetation, abandoned as a result of the creatures’ advance. Trees infected by “glowing mushrooms.”

The compelling premise, though, is absolutely squandered in bulk by a conventional, even bland, romantic sub-plot involving the photographer and the daughter. Both of these characters have personality flaws which is just another way of writing that they’ll eventually fall in love by the end of the movie (which they do – don’t fall out of your chair in shock): The photographer really wants to be family man while the rebellious (aren’t they all?) daughter is having reservations about an engagement she has.

There is no compelling reason, though, why the romance angle is even needed in a movie such as this. Why not a lone female photographer bent upon photographing the creatures up close, daring to enter the Infected Zone? Why not a male photographer who occasionally crosses paths with women? Was it really necessary to tack on the romance? Really?

The movie was shot semi-improvised and is mostly effective in this approach. Supporting characters seem authentic because, for the most part, they were the local population and the dialog was mostly generated on the spot. Only a few times does this improvisation fall flat – A homeless woman barks needlessly at the couple as they realize the creatures have invaded America and the devastated homes look more devastated by a hurricane then a rampaging alien creature.

As the movie progressed, I felt more and more compelled to fast forward through the romantic sections because, quite honestly, they did nothing but slow the movie down. Do I really care if the photographer’s personal life back in the States is “complicated?” No. Did I really care that (what a surprise) the spunky rebellious adult daughter develops a soft spot for the photographer? No.

The movie has a fairly obvious “gimmick” in that the opening sequence is really the very end of the movie, meaning that most people already know that our newly minted couple probably dies of an alien attack. This deflates a lot of the suspense of the movie itself, knowing that these people are doomed.

“Monsters” is saved only by it’s intriguing premise and that effective delivery. When it strays into a conventional romance, the movie quickly falls flat.

Some movies benefit from having a romantic sub-plot. Some movies bank their entire premise on romance. This isn’t one of those movies. That’s not anti-woman, that’s simply reality even if it’s in a movie about large alien octopi.

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