‘Monsters’ Review

Published 5 years ago by , Updated March 3rd, 2014 at 6:44 am,

monsters reviews Monsters Review

Those who go into writer/director Gareth Edwards’ feature-film debut Monsters expecting to see the next Cloverfield are going to be sorely disappointed. This is not the monster mayhem B-movie homage you may have seen it advertised as.

What you should expect from this unique, moving and beautiful film is an experience that I can best describe as Sofia Coppola’s Lost In Translation meets Steven Spielberg’s remake of War of Worlds. And, as strange as that combination may sound, it absolutely works for this film.

Monsters is basically your classic story of boy meets girl meets aliens: Andrew (Scoot McNairy) is an American photographer traveling across Mexico, trying to snap shots of the tragic aftermaths of recent alien attacks. We’re told that awhile back, a meteorite came crashing into Earth’s orbit and broke up over Mexico; soon after that, giant, tentacled, bioluminescent aliens began to rise up from the water and wander the Northern part of the country, reproducing at rapid rates. The aliens mostly roam the Mexican jungles, but when provoked, they attack the human population and urban areas, leaving swaths of destruction in their wake.

After one such attack, Andrew finds himself tasked with locating and escorting Samantha (Whitney Able), the daughter of the man who owns the publication Andrew hopes will buy his pictures. The boss wants his daughter delivered home to her fiance, and Andrew sees an opportunity to snag the career as a photo journalist he’s always hoped for, so he and Sam set out on the road together, bound for the ferry which will cart them home to America. Of course, things don’t quite go as planned.

monsters3 Monsters Review

What unfolds instead is a journey across a gorgeous jungle landscape teeming with deadly aliens, while the unlikely pair are faced with experiences that slowly bring them together, even though their lives literally and figuratively hang in the balance. What unfolds for us, the viewers, is the story of two people who must guide each other through extraordinary circumstances, in order to help one another find their respective centers.

Gareth Edwards has constructed a film that achieves coherence and emotional resonance against all odds. Shot guerrilla style in several South American countries, Monsters only has McNairy and Able as its two credited actors; the rest of the “characters” in the film are all real people who were roped into playing their roles on the fly. Real events (parades, celebrations, etc…) were manipulated to fit the context of the film’s narrative,  bringing a sense of authenticity and realness that totally bolsters the fantastic sci-fi premise of the movie. In that sense, this film’s reputation as “The most realistic monster movie ever made,” is totally accurate.

Monsters image gas mask Monsters Review

Edwards also wisely invests in the natural beauty of his exotic locales, capturing the natural light and scenery that the jungles provide to those who have the eye to capture their splendor on camera. And Edwards certainly has that eye. Take out all the alien stuff and Monster is still one hell of a great travel brochure for South America.

However, the director’s true forte is visual effects, and the CGI used at many points to augment the footage is nearly seamless and really does enhance the real-life atmosphere of the film. Edwards is the type of director who has the right idea about how CGI should be employed: sparingly and pointedly. None of the effects in Monsters feel frivolous or gratuitous and all the visuals being manufactured directly contribute to the visual subtext of the movie, instead of just being there for the sake of ‘something cool to look at.’

Monsters image alien wall Monsters Review

The design of the aliens borrows heavily from past works, but their presence and “personality” in the film is again what separates Monsters from other creature features: the aliens aren’t “evil” or “misunderstood,” they’re pretty much animals that roam the Earth living out the highs and lows of their life cycle – same as any other animal species, mankind included. You do get direct looks at the aliens (usually at night), and the visual effects certainly hold up; visually, the film is very smart and economical in its approach to presenting the extraordinary.

Of course, none of the visual splendor would mean anything if there weren’t a story to anchor it, and while there is a loose narrative at work here (boy meets girl meets alien, remember?) the actual finer points of conveying that narrative rest solely on the film’s two leads, McNairy and Able. Luckily, the two actors strike a bright spark of chemistry that slow-burns through this entire film. Both these characters are charming, likeable, flawed and complex, and seeing them slowly falling for one another feels organic and natural, never hokey or overly melodramatic. Because we care about Andrew and Sam and their budding romance, we therefore care about their safety, making the perilous moments of their journey tense and gripping – while the aliens feel like a necessary element of the story, rather than tacked-on plot devices. It’s the kind of thing you hope for from quality sci-fi films.

Monsters andrew sam Monsters Review

Is Monsters for everyone? Well, I know that there is a contingent of movie fans who prefer their sci-fi monster movies to be chock-full of crazy-looking creatures and plenty of action, and those fans are going to be disappointed with the slower pace and restrained alien mayhem offered by Monsters. There is also a contingent of movie fans that love heart-stirring romantic adventures, who might be put off by a film that throws aliens into that particular mix. So while in my personal opinion this film should be something that everyone checks out, truthfully speaking, not everyone is going to respond to it positively.

In the end, Monsters is a film that borrows from several genres in order to synthesize a new movie that came together in a very unique way. It’s a hard sell on paper, but this is one of those cinematic experiences that I feel is well worth the time (and ticket money) invested.

Watch the trailer for Monsters below. The film is currently available on Video On Demand (which I recommend) but will be given a limited release in the U.S. on October 29th.

Our Rating:

4 out of 5

TAGS: Monsters
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  1. Scariest part was at the end of the film when the ‘Monsters’ finally show up, singing Ride of the Valkyries.
    Great stuff.

  2. I wanted to dig this movie very, very badly. I love supporting smart indie films that do more with less, from a budgetary point of view. And being able to see it via VOD before it theaters was a great perk.

    But this was dreadful. The main characters were utterly unlikable and dumb even by horror standards.

    • Hoo boy.

      I’m going to have to find some time to see this one for myself, I guess.


  3. I just watched this the other day and was very impressed with what they accomplished. I do agree that Monsters was not the best title since that’s not what the movie’s about and only sets it up for the hatred of viewers who only want special effects, but they are the reason that the story happens at all, so what else would you call it?


    Anyone else notice that the beginning of the movie is actually the end? That attack happens after they leave the gas station and you can see Sam lying on the ground with Andrew screaming for help.

    • Oops. Missed the first page where Kofi mentions noticing my spoiler.

  4. i was thrilled to check this movie out. reminded me of district 9 mixed with cloverfield and for some reason the arrival. i have to say i was deeply disappointed for many reasons. first, let me just ask – whats with the giant squid? the [miniscule] two or three action scenes you see reminded me hints of movie “sphere” and those gargantuan monsters they show in “the mist.” however, i sadly have to say both those mediocre movies at least hold up compared to this drama falsely portayed as a thriller/action…uh… movie. this movie just draaaags. the one relationship between both characters gets good and when you think it can get better [when they must trek through a daunting contaminated zone] their relationship proves to be dull. a movie called monsters with hardly any monsters scenes and dull relationship. eh. overall, a let down. a let down indeed.

  5. “What you should expect from this unique, moving and beautiful film is an experience that I can best describe as Sofia Coppola’s Lost In Translation meets Steven Spielberg’s remake of War of Worlds. And, as strange as that combination may sound, it absolutely works for this film.”

    Having just finished watching this movie, I wanted to find out if anyone else had similar opinions about it as I did and went searching for a review. I came across this one, and the line quoted above from Kofi Outlaw, when I read it, made me laugh out loud, because it was EXACTLY WHAT I SAID TO MYSELF after I finished watching the movie. Okay, maybe minus the War of the Worlds part (though I agree, now that you mention it!) – but relating Monsters to Lost in Translation was right on the mark for me.

    I’m not surprised that many did not like the movie. This was a very well-done film, but it was not done to please the crowd that typically appreciates a blow-em-up, nonstop action sci-fi flick, nor the crowd who appreciates the less-emotional-than-cerebral, thinking man’s sci-fi epic. This movie was, instead, a blending of the subtle yet powerful tale of human connection and loneliness, with the well-constructed portrayal of an alternate reality of beautiful yet devastating alien life having arrived on earth. I came away from it saying, I’m not sure what just happened or what I just watched, but knowing that what I had watched was beautiful.

    I’d say this movie does for sci-fi and boy-meets-girl stories what District 9 did for sci-fi and socioeconomic commentaries…

    Nicely written review, Kofi Outlaw.

  6. This was a pathetic excuse for a film, it only had a beginning and middle. The scariest bit was a woman quacking on the screen and the most thrilling bit was when the monsters watched tv and then had sex.

  7. this is not a monster movie, this is a movie about human relationships that has monsters in it. I never heard of it but it popped up on netflix and I watched it and was presently surprised. People who want war of the worlds or transformers will be disappointed. However if you are looking for characters that are 3 dimensional, and have dialogue that is more just “we have to get out of here!” then this may be the breath of fresh air you have been waiting for.

    Also keep in mind that this is an incredibly low budget movie ($15,000) and as such it looks great. CGI monsters are not cheap to make, so the use of visual effects are not superfluous. Rather the emphasis is on the characters, their relationships, and their journey. I loved this movie, but I understand why others don’t