I hadn’t heard of Monsters before, but when I saw it was British science fiction film and an indie, I was pretty excited. I checked IMDB to set my expectations before watching (nothing like getting halfway through a movie only to discover it’s a lemon, right?) and saw it was rated at around 6.4 stars. Kinda low, but it had the best premise I’ve read in ages: “Six years after Earth has suffered an alien invasion a cynical journalist agrees to escort a shaken American tourist through an infected zone in Mexico to the safety of the US border.” How had I not heard of this?
I was a bit disappointed to discover the “cynical journalist” was not that cynical, and the “shaken tourist” was not that shaken. The journalist’s boss gave him orders to escort his daughter (the tourist) home safely. Luckily for him, she happened to be gorgeous, intelligent, brave and confident. OK, so points for having a intelligent female lead, but at the start it all smelled suspiciously like a clichéd romance-adventure. Expectations lowered.
But! aside from having hair that sometimes seemed a little too clean and perfect for their situation, the characters turned out not to be nowhere near as cheesy as I feared. They weren’t boring Hollywood heroes — just regular, flawed people (much more interesting) and the couple-dynamics that developed were also more interesting than usual. There were no high-impact action/chase sequences with multi-angle explosions or super-expensive CGI, thank you!!, and instead the whole film had a documentary kinda feel about it. The aliens are mostly just things seen in the background, in grainy footage on TV screens – except for one really bizarre scene later in the movie. And, what can I say, the setting is brilliant and I love giant, tentacly monsters.
My favorite thing was the locals. They acted pretty much how I would expect people to act near alien-occupied territory, at least as far as someone can have any expectations about that: they just carried on with their lives, pausing now and then to watch the monsters on the news. The kids were still playing, the adults were still working. Just going about their business with this sort of detached interest in what is going on in the world around them. Human-like!.
I discovered the reason the background actors all seemed so realistic afterwards: the locals there are real. The whole movie was filmed by a crew who basically just drove around in their van, filming wherever they wanted, usually without permission. They just roped in people off the streets to be in the shots. This worked super well, although I’m not sure what it says about the movie-making craft when non-actors not really acting come across as more believable than professionals?
Anyway, it’s a good movie, especially considering it was filmed guerilla-styles on a budget of $15,000. The potential for cliché was mostly avoided, and the plot is simple but fun and rewards attention (I missed some additional story in the start and end sequences, so look out for that). The more I think about it the more I like it. I’ll definitely watch it again. Also, it scores major points, because the world needs more post-alien-invasion stories and also more tentacles in general.