Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Creature Feature: Monsters

Suddenly, that border wall looks like a heck of a good idea. While that probably is not the sentiment enterprising indie filmmaker Gareth Edwards was going for with his zero budget creature feature, it is a logical enough response when otherworldly cephalopods turn half of Mexico into an “infected zone” in the prosaically titled Monsters (trailer here), opening this Friday in New York.

Shortly after a NASA probe crashed in Mexico, the monsters appeared. The American and Mexican militaries have joined forces to contain those creatures in the so-called infected zone. The border is completely sealed off, which should be reassuring, unless you happen to be a couple of clueless gringos who somehow lost their passports south of the border. They would be Andrew Kaulder and Sam Wyden.

Kaulder is a jaded news photographer assigned to escort home Wyden, the do-gooder daughter of his Rupert Murdoch-like publisher. Basically, it is his fault they find themselves in such a fix. As a result, they will have to cross the fortified border the hard way, while hoping they do not run into any rampaging behemoths.

Using straight off the shelf commercial software, Edwards’ monster special effects look surprisingly good. Shrewdly we first see them on the big screen within the small screen of cable television news reports, giving us a general idea of what we are dealing with, but not showing them in the slimy, tactile flesh until the final reel. Roger Corman should definitely approve. However, Edwards’ most effective visuals are the surreal burned-out, monster-scarred landscapes he creates, outdoing all prior post-apocalyptic wastelands previously seen on film.

Unfortunately, the whole notion of Kaulder and Wyden struggling to cross the border is obviously intended to carry heavy political significance, but really just falls flat. Still, their bickering, bantering chemistry somewhat exceeds the industry standard for micro-produced horror movies. Indeed, Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able are not bad as the cocky photographer and resentful daughter of privilege, respectively. Still, the real attraction to the film is the hyper-real vibe Edwards successfully crafts.

Fortunately, the veneer of “relevance” is thin enough that Monsters can be enjoyed simply as a low budget genre flick that made good. Costing about as much as a cocktail in some midtown bars, Edwards’ effects look good enough to cover the price of a middling steak dinner as well. Recommended for us genre geeks, Monsters opens this Friday (10/29) in New York at the Landmark Sunshine.