Monsters (2010)

(On DVD, March 2011) Some movies are best admired than enjoyed, and someone simply watching Monsters won’t get as much out of it than after finding out how cheaply the film was made.  Reportedly shot for under half a million dollars with mostly-improvised dialogue in existing settings supplemented by computer imagery put together by the director, Monsters is more impressive for what it achieves under the circumstances of its production than what it actually delivers to a demanding audience.  It’s also more interesting as another of the no-budget SF thrillers made possible by cheap digital cameras and cost-effective CGI: Following Paranormal Activity and Skyline, we’re seeing a reinvigorated line of B-movies that allow individual creators far more creative freedom in presenting their concept on the big-screen with decent production values and fantastical thrills.  What’s more unfortunate is that their scripts are often even less polished than their blockbuster brethren: While improvised dialogue allows directors to shoot fast, cheap and “fix it in post”, the trade-off is a thin plot that meanders along a generic story with little depth and none of the intricate payoffs that strong scripts can deliver.  Writer/director/effects-supervisor Gareth Edwards’s Monsters features some breathtaking cinematography, an intriguing look at the normalized aftermath of an alien invasion and some arresting visual effects… but it also feels repetitive, inconclusive and even meaningless.  (The film takes its alien-invasion cues from pandemics and environmental degradation rather than failed imperialism, making “victory” an illusion from the first few moments.  Even survival is a dicey proposition.)  Those who realize that the first scene is the climax of the film won’t necessarily feel better than those who see the film as open-ended.  The protagonist couple may be married in real-life, but little of this chemistry carries through to their performances: even by the end of the film, they still feel like two strangers thrown together by circumstances, and this standoffishness doesn’t help make the film better.  It all amounts to an interesting, but not really enjoyable film.  Science Fiction fans interested in the increased democratization of SF movies will certainly want to take a look at the film and then lose themselves in special features of the two-disc DVD set.  Anyone else may want to ask themselves if they really want to spend 90 minutes watching a meandering and pessimistic look at an alien invasion that nothing is ever going to stop.  On the other hand, keep an eye on Gareth Edwards’s next effort, whatever that might be.

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