Big monsters are back. Movies like “The Host” and “Cloverfield” have reintroduced audiences to that rarest, but biggest of beasts, the giant out-of-control monster. Who needs vampires and zombies when you could have a ninety foot tall squid with a bad attitude and a Christmas bulb for a head?
The latest addition to the big monster genre is “Monsters,” an indie movie that reportedly only cost $15,000. Part road trip, part romance and all atmosphere, the story of Andrew (Scoot McNairy), an opportunistic photojournalist, who must escort his boss’s daughter, Sam (Whitney Able), back to the U.S. border through the treacherous quarantine area inhabited by… you guessed it, giant creatures left there when a NASA space craft carrying samples of extraterrestrial life crashed.
It’s a pure b-movie premise and for the first fifteen minutes or so promises to be little more than a Roger Corman film with better CGI. Then something happens. The movie becomes about the relationship between total opposites Andrew and Sam as they bond over their trip’s hardships and the strangeness of their surroundings. It’s a giant monster movie that focuses on the characters and despite some wild plot contrivances, it works.
The character study is a slow burn that leads up to the big reveal, the unveiling of the creatures. For most of the film they are seen and not heard but director Gareth Edwards paces the film carefully building up suspense through use of sound effects to climax with a wild mating dance between two of the Lovecraftian beasts. It’s a strangely beautiful and eerie sequence that brings the movie to a close.
“Monsters” isn’t as effective as “District 9” or “Cloverfield,” two other recent movies that introduced us to new creatures, but it is a complex film with timely messages about immigration (the US is protected by a giant fence to keep the monsters out) and our reactions in times of danger.