Monsters

(M) Madman DVD/BD

Monsters sports a you-are-there feeling that gives the story a consistent urgency, yet, despite the guerrilla-style production by first-timer Gareth Edwards, the images are polished (Edwards did all the CGI on the cheap) and colourful.

It’s the performances of Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able — a real-life couple playing two people who have never met before the story begins — who breathe life into the story.

McNairy is Andrew Kaulder, a photojournalist for a major news publisher who gets a call while finishing up a job in Mexico: He is to escort his boss’ daughter Samantha (Able), who’s been vacationing in the region and has been injured in an alien melee, back to the US, where she is soon to be married.

That’s easier said than done, since a large part of the country has been walled off for the past six years, ever since a NASA probe crashed there bearing extraterrestrial stowaways.

Now, enormous, tentacled creatures roam the quarantined area, requiring travellers south of the “infected zone” to take ferries to America.

It wouldn’t be a movie if things were that simple for Andrew and Sam, who eventually find themselves forced to make the trip directly through that zone, travelling by boat, car and on foot through jungles and up rivers with the help of assorted strangers.

So far, so predictable — but Monsters is anything but.

In fact consistently throughout this movie genre tropes are thrown out the window.

Predictability gives way to subverted expectations. Also, by keeping the CGI to a minimum, one is kept on edge throughout the film.

Don’t anticipate anything should be the mantra of this film.

In fact it’s in the quieter moments — like when Andrew and Sam climb a hill and view the large awe-inspiring wall separating the infected zone from the mainland as the sun sets — that this film takes on a significance and power one couldn’t have anticipated.

Edwards utilises the Mexican settings (actually shot largely in Guatemala, Belize and Costa Rica) for their unfamiliarity, and the same goes for the non-professional local actors who add authenticity, humanity and humour.

The jungle locations are beautiful and foreboding, and the final reel plays out on a landscape of bewildering, evocative desolation.

Monsters may not be the scarefest viewers are imagining it will be, but it engages the emotions so well that its frightening moments, when they do arrive, are all the more potent.

Adrian Drayton

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