Film: Monsters

Monsters (2010) is an SF creature-feature that really makes the most of its limitations. Its science fiction premise isn’t particularly interesting, its plot isn’t all that complicated, its cast small, its special effects restrained. But creative filmmaking, strong performances, and well deployed sound and visual effects combine to tell an engrossing story.

An alien invasion has “infected” a broad section of Central America, leading to a brutal war between humanity and the enormous creatures controlling the region. Photographer Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy) is there to cover the chaos, but is sidetracked from his work when his publisher calls, demanding Kaulder help escort his daughter Samantha Wynden (Whitney Able) safely home. Reluctantly, Kaulder and Sam team up, making their way to the coast in the hopes of catching transport back to the States.  Their plans go awry, however, forcing them to journey through the “infected zone” on their way back to Texas, where their relationships — with each other, as well as with the momentous events of their time — change dramatically.

A realistic-feeling travelogue, Monsters succeeds by implying a disaster scenario rather than over-explicating it, leaving many of the details to the imagination. The aliens are ever on the fringes of the couple’s journey, contributing greatly to their mystique and to the uneasy atmosphere. McNairy and Able are likable leads, convincingly improvising throughout as their journey leads them northward, ever complicated by the chaos of the alien war zone. In terms of its science fiction content, Monsters doesn’t really deliver anything that hasn’t been done before, but its execution is assured and powerful, combining suspense, romance, and adventure. And the ending is pitch perfect. Very good stuff, well worth watching.

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