Postmortem: ‘Monsters’

Before Gareth Edwards directed Godzilla for Legendary and Warner Bros. he did a little (it cost $500,000, which is more in line with the catering budget of a movie these days) movie called Monsters, which was what put him on the map.  Seeing that the former has just been released on Netflix and I haven’t yet seen the latter, this is a good time as any to revisit that film.

It revolves around a NASA space probe that is sent to find signs of life in the universe.

Unfortunately, the probe finds what it’s looking for, though it breaks up in Earth’s atmosphere, spreading the aforementioned alien life them all over Mexico.  This results in half the county being quarantined, and the United States working with the Mexicans to destroy the aliens.

Unfortunately for the Mexican and American governments, the aliens have other ideas.

Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy) is a newspaper photographer, who’s trying to get pictures of the creatures that are apparently running rampant in Mexico, a task made more difficult by the fact that he also has to get the daughter of newspaper’s publisher, Samantha Wynden (Whitney Able) to the coast so that she can get out of the country before that particular route closes.

And as for leaving Mexico by water, they have only 48 hours till the boat leaves, or they’ll be stranded for the next six months.

Though that’s not quite true.  They could still go overland, though the Infected Zone to the border that separates Mexico from the United States.

Though they can only travel during the day because no one wants to be out at night, when the monsters are active.

The movie works almost as a travelogue of Mexico because as the couple move through that country, they interact with the locals, which gives the movie an interesting feel.  Occasionally as Andrew and Samantha move about you can see the remnants of the efforts of humanity to defend themselves against the monsters: an attack helicopter is downed by the side of the road, an abandoned tank sits out of place in a small lake or an airliner lies smashed by the side of a river.

It’s very interesting visually, but if I wanted to watch a travelogue of Mexico, Anthony Bourdain is also on Netflix.

Most interesting is a fighter plane that has also crashed in the river, that is held in the grip of an underwater alien that seemingly does not want to release its now earthbound prey.

The bulk of the effects shots are done at night, which I assume director Gareth Edwards does because it’s easier to make them look more realistic–as well as providing atmosphere–than if they were done during the day.

When they reach the docks, the charge is $5000 dollars per person to take the ferry, and Andrew purchases a ticket for Samantha, though the passports are stolen, an they both have to make arrangements to go overland, which is more dangerous because they have to pass through the Infected Zone.

Where the monsters roam.

The interesting thing about these monsters is that–while they definitely are dangerous when provoked, the film doesn’t necessarily say that they’re the same if left alone.  Unfortunately, it does imply that they require a certain amount of territory, and that in efforts to expand, they will fight.

Watching Monsters a second time I think that I am better situated to see what Edwards is talking about.  His film, on the surface, is about alien monsters that infest part of Mexico and are making moves into the United States via Texas, but beyond that he’s talking about how we isolate ourselves (one of the American responses to the creatures is to build a massive wall between us and them) from anything that we consider different from us, alien (literally or figuratively) or strange.

Though in the end, while we may succeed for a little while in keeping out what we fear, what we are really doing is imprisoning ourselves.

That being said, I wished that Monsters spent a bit more of its running time tackling actual monsters, instead of those of the metaphorical sort.

Another interesting thing is that it’s rated R, which is odd because there’s little in the way of cursing, anyone undergoing any sort of bodily harm, or even the sight of blood.  There are some intense moments, but when all is said and done Monsters is a relatively mild movie.  It’s a mystery to lots of people why movies are rated as they are, and this seems to say to me that whatever charter the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) is working under, it needs an overhaul because I have seen more violent cartoons (And I am being serious.  Take a look at the compilation of violent moments from vintage Bugs Bunny cartoons that I have included below.  And notice that Bugs does so with his typical sense of abandon.  His preferred method of mayhem is typically explosives, and he doesn’t discriminate whom he visits his wrath upon.  He’ll blow up people (usually Yosemite Sam or Elmer Fudd) just as easily as animals (typically, though not exclusively, Daffy Duck or Wile E. Coyote) or even aliens (Marvin the Martian, though admittedly he had it coming).

If explosives (dynamite, grenades, nitro) are unavailable Bugs is quite willing to shoot them in the face, or have them meet their end via train, plane or automobile.

And I’ll be the first person to tell you that I enjoyed those cartoons immensely.  And (as far as I know) they have had no detrimental effect upon me, there’s no getting around the violence.

Which brings me full circle back to Monsters.  As I said earlier, there are moments of intensity, but nothing at all that would warrant an R-rating.  I would be perfectly in agreement with a PG-13 (for intensity) but an R?

I don’t quite get it.

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