Imagine the following story elements. The rain forests of Mexico and Latin America, alien beings loose in said rain forests, and a man and a woman trying to make their way through this landscape (without being eaten) to get home to America. Sounds exciting, no? Similar to Skyline or Battle Los Angeles?
Monsters, the 2010 sci-fi, alien invasion movie, is not at all what you would expect. Yes, there are huge monster aliens in this film. They look like giant squids or octopi and stomp around like Godzilla or Cloverfield, but they are only backdrop. This film is not about aliens: it’s about two people, who live lives of quiet desperation, trying to outrun their own emotional turmoil with the aliens being the external manifestation of their feelings.
Monsters does have a plot. At some point in the future, the United States launches a probe to seek out alien life somewhere in our solar system. The probe returns but crashes into the jungle south of the border. The aliens escape and begin to multiply in this area. The United States and Mexican governments have a hard time controlling these entities and establish an “infected zone” where travel is discouraged.
Unto this come Andrew and Samantha. Samantha is the daughter of a wealthy American publisher. Andrew is a freelance photographer who works for Samantha’s father. Samantha is traveling in Latin America but finds it hard to get home. Andrew is tasked with finding Samantha and bringing her home. Naturally, this is not easily done, and the pair must travel through the infected zone to get to America.
Samantha is engaged but doubts her fiance. Andrew has an out of wedlock son whom he rarely sees. As the two brave travel via planes, trains, and automobiles (substitute boats for planes) and a variety of corrupt and suspicious locals, we learn more and more that neither Andrew or Samantha is at peace. As they continue to skirt the aliens –the encounters becoming increasingly frightening—they reveal more of themselves and their pain to one another. By the film’s end, when we finally see the monstrous aliens up close, Andrew and Samantha realize they are in love with one another. As the monsters engage in a right of courtship hundreds of feet in the air, Andrew and Samantha share their first kiss. Metaphor city!
Monsters is beautifully shot, and the characters’ journey on the rivers of Latin America reminded me of Werner Herzog’s seminal work, Aguirre, Wrath of God. If you are looking for heart-pounding chases, heroic acrobatics, or a shoot ‘em up flick, Monsters will disappoint. Netflix categorizes this film as “sci-fi, fantasy” and “sci-fi, horror/thriller,” but it really should be classified as a drama and one with an indie feel at that. Monsters is not a popcorn film, but if you must think of it that way have this snack lightly-salted.