Looking for a short, great movie to frighten the hell out of you? Do you prefer your sci-fi fear flicks to contain human love stories, as well? And how about a road movie, where two people escaping aliens/boredom/their own bad decisions band together and force their way through jungles?
Do I have the film for you: Monsters, a 2010 sleeper hit from the UK made on the tightest of budgets. Filmed in the US and Latin America by a two-person crew using off-the-shelf cameras, it stars two fairly unknown American actors and a host of Central American and Mexican film extras. The non-professionals – who do a uniformly wonderful job – lived in the areas the director wanted to use as locations, often without permission, and simply followed the cues they were given. The two main actors were also winging it with bare suggestions from the director, Gareth Edwards. As a result, the movie has a wonderful “you are there” feel. Especially when the action takes you places you don’t want to be.
The plot’s simple: alien animal protoplasm has arrived on Earth on the wings of a returning space probe from Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons. The flight crash-landed in Mexico, where over the past six years the animals have grown and bred. The adults resemble ten-story-tall, wavery cephalopods (think squid rather than octopuses) that somehow manage to ride currents of air. Suspension of disbelief is a must, as the physics of this feat is never detailed.
The monsters kill people. A lot of people. The “infected zone” in Mexico grows larger every year and now abuts the US, where a giant wall has been built along the Rio Grande.
Into this mess jumps news photographer Andrew Kaulder, assigned to chivvy his boss’s daughter, Sam Wynden, back to the US. If he fails, he loses his job.
They start north.
Battling everything except poisonous spiders, using an array of buses, jeeps, riverboats and footpaths, and relying on the help of mercenaries, the two finally reach Texas. But the game’s not over yet.
At times, I admit, I covered my eyes, the tension was that great. Other times, the clearly dodo protagonists deserved to be caught. I was wrong, though. Through quick thinking and plain dumb luck, they manage to outlive their guides and become witness to the appalling grace of the monsters. Awestruck, the two look like they’re watching whales. Except that whales don’t wreak such havoc.
Their journey toward physical safety mirrors Sam and Kaulder’s interior walkabouts. He’s the father of a six-year-old son he never gets to see. She’s engaged to the appropriate man picked by Daddy. Once they reach the US, will they follow the script? Or go off-piste?
Maybe Monsters isn’t for you. Perhaps you’ll recommend it to your children (it’s rated R for language, of which there isn’t much – very little of the Spanish used by extras is subtitled). But if you feel like curling up for 90 minutes with popcorn and curiosity, Monsters will deliver.
Complete with tentacles.