Part road movie romance, part alien invasion sci-fi, the independently produced Monsters (2010) offers a unique perspective and an immersive vision. An outsider from the Hollywood system, director Gareth Edwards embraces this status to create a debut feature that depicts experiences unattainable from within Western society’s protective barriers. The world of Monsters exists six years after alien life inhabits Earth, when the majority of the extraterrestrials have been contained in an infected zone that engulfs much of Mexico. We follow Andrew and Samantha as they navigate through this hazardous area, learning more about the nature of these creatures than news reports can teach, while their feelings for each other blossom.
Andrew’s job as a photographer places him on the outskirts of the invasion; employed to capture a selected image of the creatures for public consumption (photos of them attacking children are especially valuable), while not engaging with them personally. He reluctantly undertakes the assignment of escorting his boss’s daughter, Samantha, home, but soon discovers that she isn’t the spoiled rich girl he expected. Rather than nestling in the confines her father’s status offers, it’s evident that Samantha has grown to actively reject this. Despite the danger posed by their journey she notably relaxes through its course, finding in Andrew somebody around whom she can act naturally. The roles Samantha has attempted to play throughout her life are hinted at when she mentions, to Andrew’s amusement, how as a child she’d practise laughing.
A pivotal scene, where the pair realise the scope of their privileged stance, occurs as they climb atop a Mayan pyramid and gaze towards America, and the literal wall built around it. The juxtaposition of the two structures – one a proud monument paying tribute to Gods and men, the other an attempt to internalise and shelter a civilisation – is striking. Apparently prioritising destroying, or at least containing, the aliens, rather than understanding them, the American government seems blind to notions Andrew and Samantha absorb on their journey. In fact the “monsters” don’t actually seem evil, or righteous, but are simply creatures. They are violent when provoked, curious about their surroundings and even possess an unworldly elegance when quietly observed.
Monsters’ raw, handheld cinematography enhances the sense of a gloss-free, renegade perspective. The infected zone’s desolate wastelands are completed by dilapidated skyscrapers crumbling in the distance and carcasses of fighter planes drifting along rivers. These digital additions wed perfectly with the natural images to create an environment as tangible as the barren, post-apocalyptic landscapes in John Hillcoat’s The Road (2009).
Though towering tentacled creatures are still yet to inhabit anywhere on Earth, bar Scotland’s Loch Ness, the handling and perception of cataclysmic events in Monsters draws undeniable parallels to reality. Though not always accessible, the importance of emotional experience and alternate perspectives is often overlooked. Although media moguls and world leaders aren’t likely to take notes from a small indie film, Monsters’ positive critical reception will attract attention within the film industry. Let’s just hope Edward’s sudden fame won’t tempt him to step inside the wall.