I had been hearing about Monsters for many months, and if you haunt AintItCool, you probably had as well. Though there were hopes and, after a long while, a distributor, the big invasion never happened and the movie sort of died quietly.
Much like District 9, this movie has a unique and decidedly independent feel. What does that mean? For District 9, this boiled down to subject matter, approach, and story structure; it still had a ton of action and explosions and a relatively large budget in comparison. In the case of Monsters, certainly lower production values and a smaller cast adds to its indie feel. But, it doesn’t mean it has a smaller canvas… the movie was shot all over Central America and in the US. But more so than District 9, it focuses on characters rather than spectacle. The movies are really quite different, but the sensibility and how they fill in the world is similar and it is what makes them both great science fiction.
The world we inhabit for the length of this story is set up by some front titles and then we’re dropped into the aftermath of an attack. But rather than focus on the aliens or the blood or the whys or the action, the story immediately becomes a microcosm of two people, around whom the world was irrevocably changed by the events of 6 years ago when an Earth probe broke up over Mexico. We get the world through glimpses in the background, TV stories playing at screen edge, and in watching children play. It is the classic writer’s rule of “show, don’t tell” as well as taking an event and applying to the world to see how it would change.
Now, lest you think I’m saying this flick is perfect, it isn’t. Some of the dialog is painful and one moment should have been utterly rewritten as it became a polemic. And the sad part is that the movie, which is really more a metaphor, had and was making its point, but the writer and the director didn’t trust us to understand. In doing so, one of the most powerful moments and views in the film is deflated into a teeth-grinding exchange between our two characters. Despite the gaff, the general intent and success of the film is also what great science fiction can do… provide perspective and make you think about the word in a very different way by giving the reader/watcher distance from today.
So, if you’re in the mood for something a little different and not full of a lot of explosions and special effects, but you want some good story telling and to see something in a way it is rarely presented, check it out.