‘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. man I wanna watch it but its 9.99$ on demand semms kinda steep. u sure its worth it kofi?

    • Well what I say in my review is how I feel. Depends if it sound like your type of movie.

      I personally don’t mind paying $10 for VOD. I pay $12 for a non-matinee ticket here in NYC, and I don’t have to worry about vermin, crazy homeless people, bed bugs, cellphones and loud talkers.

      In that sense, for me, VOD pays for itself.

      • @Kofi

        You also get to pause it when you want for a break.

  2. I’d watch it, don’t have cable though so it looks like I’m going to have to wait for the DVD.

  3. Lost in Translation meets War of the Words? I’m sold.

  4. I’m going to have to check it out, but I don’t think it’s going to be in the theaters near me. Gonna have to wait for Netflix.

  5. Kofi, just as a frame of reference, how did you feel about Cloverfield and District 9? This seems similar to those 2 films.

    • I enjoyed both, but Liked D9 way more than ‘Cloverfield’.

      People compare this to ‘Cloverfield’, but I find that a little misleading. I say more ‘War of the Worlds’ because that movie used aliens as a backdrop for a family drama. I feel like Cloverfield used romantic drama as the tether for monster madness – subtle but different.

      • Cool, I also liked D9 WAYYYYY more than Cloverfield. Thanks, Kofi.

    • NO WAY! Cloverfield and District 9 are 4 and 5 stars movies, for the stories for the way they are shot and much else. this is a -5 star movie. A long excruciating pain. what a waste of time.

  6. I hadn’t even heard of this movie but you make it sound really good. Especially the fact that it is character driven and the CGI is used only when necessary. I’m going to search my local indie theatre for this movie next weekend.

    Thanks Kofi.

    • only when necessary? I’d say for about 45 seconds in total.

  7. I saw this like a month ago on VOD and I liked it a lot. I loved the story but it did leave me wanting more. Without spoilers I do wish there was a little more to the ending. I completely get what the point was but I just wanted a little more. The cgi was really good and I too thought it was very very realistic. The sci fi genre needs more movies like this.

    • Jess,

      HINT: To really get the ending you have to watch the beginning again.

      Maybe you noticed that but I thought I’d drop the hint in case you didn’t.


      • Ok I feel kinda dumb now. I just did watch the beginning again and wow. Yeah so my opinion stands. Awesome movie

    • “I do wish there was a little more to the ending”
      .. you mean like a movie at the end? like a real movie with a story? .. well I wish that too so my 3£ would have meant something.

  8. very true kofi I just dont like paying for a movie 3 weeks after I c it. Makes the bill seem just so much larger.

  9. Movie was pretty boring. Was looking for more monster scenes. Could of also did without the uninteresting, love-match-up, struggling, my life sucks, please make it exciting story.

    • @ Jason Charles

      Well, as I say in the review: if that was what you’re looking for then this movie isn’t going to interest you.

      That love story you find so “uninteresting” was also the basis for a little flick called “Lost In Translation”. Some people loved that flick, others not so much.

      Depends on your preferences. I personally like my sci-fi to mean something other than ‘cool creature/alien’ scenes. Not saying there’s anything wrong with those – I just need more than that, and for me, this film delivered :-).

      To each their own!

      • Some comments I’ve read elsewhere have lead me to believe that this film, minus the aliens, would have been no different. ei: the monsters brought nothing to the film in the end. In your opinion, is this a fair assessment?

        For me, a monster/alien/etc.. movie has to have those elements MEAN something to the dénouement of the story. If the setting can be haphazardly changed to a non-sci-fi setting without unduly affecting the basic premise of the film, then the sci-fi elements are not justified, IMHO.

        I have yet to see this film, however, and will withhold judgment until that moment.

        • Can’t you say that about a lot of sci-fi allegory?

          The threat the Aliens pose in this film has a direct link to how the main characters change and confront the realities of their respective lives.

          I believe people who complain about “Not enough aliens” are simply of that camp of sci-fi fans I mentioned, who prefer creatures and “cool visuals and designs” to an actual story rooted in the human condition.

          Just a matter of preference.

          • I just finished watching it OnDemand. I read your review before hand. I must say I completely agree with everything you said in the review. The movie was Brilliant. Initially after seeing the previews I was honestly expecting an effects driven blockbuster. What I got was an exceptional movie with fantastic acting, characters I genuinely cared about and a story that meant something. I’m normally of the camp you mentioned. I’m a huge sci-fi nut. I love my crazy aliens, huge explosions and all that but this movie just resonated with me like few others. Great film!

        • the only way to make this movie interesting would have been to use naked woman making up as a backdrop instead of the 2 squids.

  10. This is a stunningly beautiful movie, but it’s not for 13 year olds, or anyone who thinks Transformers is worth watching. However if you found ‘The Mist’ interesting, but were disappointed by the visual effects, then you will most likely appreciate the emotional punch this movie delivers with a visual flair that I’ve not seen before.

    • Now that is an intriguing remark! More of William Friedkin picture than a Michael Bay picture, huh? (Although I have tremendous respect for what he pulled together for Armageddon)

    • “This is a stunningly beautiful movie, but it’s not for 13 year old, or anyone who thinks Transformers is worth watching.”

      I went to see transformers. I knew it was going to be crap and it was crap.
      this is worst. just for reference I do believe transformers story was more complex then this boy meets girl oh dear we can’t shag story.

      “appreciate the emotional punch this movie delivers”

      … if you manage to stay awake and not puke on the guy sitting next to you. what the emotional punch in this movie?!!!
      have you ever watch movies like American beauty, let the right one in, sleepers…. just to say but a few??
      emotional punch ahahah yeah right…

  11. i watched this a couple weeks ago and found it to be pretty good. not awesome for a monster movie but i would definitely recommend it. the end made me feel like it was actually us humans who were the true monsters.

  12. Monsters is also available on HDNET on october 27 for free.I watched the trailer on HD and it did looked like a slow paced movie but very much worth watching,Sometimes slower is better

  13. this was available on the playstation network to rent for 14.99 about 3 weeks ago.

  14. Couldn’t agree more with this review. I really liked Monsters when I saw it at TIFF awhile back – with Gareth Edwards in attendance for a Q&A. He was extremely awesome and said he did all the effects by himself on his computer in six months. The special effects looked great already but they’re even more impressive after knowing that.

  15. Well written review as always Kofi. Thanks a million. I just wanted to say your review was so good it sparked me to go ahead and charge my parents bill the 9.99 and watch it. If its as good as you say it is I’m sure ill be back to comment!

    • ahah your parents will kill you if they know you have wasted 9.99 of they hard earned cash for this movie. You should have bought yourself a porn cause probably the storyline would have been more complex.

  16. Still waiting for Fenix’ comment.. but, in the mean time, this type of story is more interesting to me than the movies being offered in cinema right now. There is a kind of Donnie Darko thing going on here. Investors are afraid to lose money distributing it so it’s not out on general release but if DVD sales justify it, it will be out there. Meanwhile, the little bit of acting I saw in the trailer was enticing..

  17. lol sorry ididn’t think anyone cared about my 2 cents… Thanks for caring haha. Yea it was actually really good. I’d go maybe with a half star lower bc the effects wern’t as good I think as kofi made them out to be. But pretty much everything else was on point.. the male and female lead really did have a great chemistry even tho you’ve probably never seen them before in past films. I do admit tho that after it ended I was hoping for a little more. the actual time they spend going thru the “infected zone” is actually very short. Oh but the “monsters” are quite inventive. I won’t spoil anything but its safe to say that you haven’t seen monsters like this in other films. The fascinating thing about them is their behavior. I won’t spoil anymore but I definitely recommend this. Don’t go into it looking for intense action and special fx go into it looking for a good character piece with some genuinely tense moments. This movie makes you think. Every scene is carefully crafted and has a distinct purpose. Also the camerawork is one of the high points of the film. It’s got a gritty handheld feel to it but the “cameraman” isn’t acknowledged by the two leads. I hope that gave you some insight to the film shido :) keep it real

    • One just has to watch 20,000 leagues under the see and war of the worlds to get an idea of what they look like.

  18. Just watched it this morning on my PS3 for $7.99. I gotta say Im glad I didnt go to the theater to watch it because I would have been pissed. It could have used a bit more monster mayhem. I’d say it’s 3 stars at best. Worth watching but I wouldn’t be trampling over people to see it again/get the dvd release ( unless the DVD had major worth while deleted scenes)

  19. yea the focus of the movie isn’t really the monsters honestly… they are just there. Much like the new series the walking dead with the zombies serving as a backdrop for a great character piece. You just have to go into it knowing this and Kofi explained that pretty well I think. Don’t go into the movie expecting war of the worlds or cloverfield.

    • @ Fenix

      That’s just it not every one will come to screenrant/read a review Monsters before going to see it. Cloverfield was terrible, yes character piece this and that, but I felt cheated in the fact that the Monsters really didn’t do much, and the film could have probably worked without them. But as I said it’s worth taking a look, it’s just not an OMG this was excellent film IMO.

  20. @antifanboy

    yea i agree i did want a lot more monster mayhem as well which i think they could’ve added while still keeping the chemistry between to two leads. I disagree when you say cloverfield was terrible. I immersed myself in the movie and imagined myself in that situation. In that aspect I believe it succeeded but I can understand why ppl criticize it. This isn’t about cloverfield tho… back to monsters.. did you feel like the “climax” at the end was sort of a let down? I sure as hell did! The most action we saw was the very beginning of the film where they show short clips of the military fighting the monsters. Don’t get me wrong i’m not some mindless action junkie but I enjoy action with some purpose behind it. But yea after reading the review I was extremely excited going into this movie but after I saw it I admit I was slightly let down.


    I would rather watch a documentary on paper towels narrated by The Nanny Fran Drescher.

    • Like I said, if you think Transformers is a great movie, or even good movie, then don’t waste your time seeing Monsters.

      • I have not seen Transformers, but I am quite sure the closing credits would be more entertaining than Monsters is.

        It’s been a long time since I’ve been to a movie that so many people walked out of.

      • umm. I Hated transformers too.

        whats the point of talking about transformers when addressing this movie? they both suck in completely different ways.

  22. Seems a lot of people here REALLY REALLY want this movie to be great, when is certainly is not. Not by any standard of storytelling or filmmaking. Looking through the comments, it seems a lot of people really, really into movies, and especially indie movies, think this MONSTERS is some kind of Second Coming. News: The average audience member, the ones who make films like STAR WARS and THE GODFATHER and APOCALYPSE NOW into the legends they are, would whole-heartedly disagree. Someone above called the acting “brilliant”. Okay, really? Ever seen anything beyond CSI or TERMINATOR 3? I mean, you *really* *seriously* found the acting “brilliant”? And how about that cheesy, amateurish dialogue? Here, let me help all you fanboys (and girls): If this exact, precise same movie had been made for thirty-five-million dollars, I absolutely guarantee that *not one of you* would be praising its “brilliance”. You’re all in love with the WAY it was made, not with the movie. Be honest with yourselves. And yes, that aspect is for sure, “brilliant”. Otherwise, as a movie, as a piece of film art, as a bit of entertainment, it is truly very bad.

  23. I never heard of this movie, but after reading your review, I watched the trailer, which was very beautiful and very scary. Then I went to IMDb to check out the Parental Guide (I watch movies to escape a world that’s often gory, foul-mouthed, etc., and while such things can be good, even necessary, in context–”We Were Soldiers Once and Young” comes to mind–that IMDb parental guide is a real big factor in judging whether I’ll watch a movie. It’s very interesting, after seeing that trailer; there’s hardly *anything* objectionable to anyone in there, and yet this really looks like an edge-of-your-seat thriller. Will definitely check “Monsters” out. Thanks!

  24. I went to see this movie. Wish I had read Jim comment before cause it would have saved me 90 min of my life. At about 20min I was looking to find a way to kill myself, at 60 I was wondering how long my nails had grown since last time I cut them. by 90 thanks god I fell asleep. You wait and wait for the monster to get just 2 stupid squids coming out at the end for 30 sec.
    You may say this movie revolves not around monsters but around human relationships. Well if that is the case then the story is as complex as a 5 years old boy understanding of quantum mechanics. What a lame cr*p. boy meets girl who’s already engaged but.. bla bla bla bla puke.
    Probably one of the worst movie I ever saw.

  25. I watched this movie last night and while I have to admit that I was a little disappointed in the end, it wasn’t because this was not a good movie. In fact, it was actually a really good movie, I just went into it expecting it to be a ‘monster movie’ when it’s really a love story with the unusual choice of mysterious aliens from space as a backdrop.

    And when I say backdrop, I mean it literally. You don’t see much of the aliens in this movie at all. You do get some fairly good looks of them but as stated above, it’s always at night and you never really get to see the whole alien clearly.

    I honestly don’t think this is an issue, however if you go into this knowing what it is. The scenery is beautiful and the acting, even by the non-actors is really convincing and actually really good! (I particularly enjoyed the ferry boat ticket guy.)

    The alien scenario is more like a sleeping baby in the back seat, just making a peep from time to time to let you know they’re there and maybe giving you a quick scare to let you know they’re not messing around. I’d say the aliens get about 10 minutes of screen time, most of which is at the end. The rest is just sounds in the background , news clips, or local pop art on the city walls.

    I find it a bit of an odd backdrop for a movie that starts off with the words:

    “Six years ago NASA discovered the possibility of alien life within our solar system. A probe was launched to collect samples, but crashed upon re-entry over Central America. Soon after, new life forms began to appear and half of Mexico was quarantined as an INFECTED ZONE. Today, the American and Mexican military still struggle to contain “the creatures”…”

    It does kinda lead you to believe that this is more of a monster movie. The non-technical phrasing of the introduction should have been a clue that this was no a sci-fi movie. The special effects, however, are pretty much seamless and not to be scoffed at.

    While I was a bit disappointed in the end, I didn’t feel like I had watched a bad movie. Just not the movie I wanted to watch.

    Aside from the alien backdrop, this movie is kind of chick-flickish so watch it with your girl, you’ll probably score a few points for that and you probably won’t hate it.

    • Perfect review by Majestyk.

      • This was a dreadful film no matter what angle you look at it from.. it’s all good and well saying ‘ah well it’s just a love story with monsters as a back-drop’ but that wasn’t what we paid to see as it certainly wasn’t marketed that way.

        I don’t know about anyone else but I went simply due to the trailer, not heard any reviews – it looks tense, scary and action packed yet none of these elements feature in the film.. in fact the scariest moment in the film is an old woman quacking like a duck! If they had made the trailer advertising it as a love story then fine, but they totally cheated the public on this one.

        Stay at home and rent 28DaysLater kids…

  26. Worst movie ever made

  27. The hobo woman near the end that barked like a dog was probably more scarier than the so-called monsters.

  28. Clearly a lot of you aren’t actually READING the review. I tell you in no uncertain terms EXACTLY what to expect from this film, so if you are still coming along and dropping “It’s not scary!” comments at this point, you really do deserve the disappointment.