Photographer Andrew is asked by his superiors to escort his boss’s daughter Sam from Costa Rica back to the US. He doesn’t want to, but he’s pressed into it and moody. There is also a bigger problem: the northern half of Mexico is a dangerous “infected area”. A few years before, NASA retrieved alien matter from space, but the space probe crashed along the US-Mexican border, which has now been infected by giant alien monsters that roam the land.
They begin an arduous journey over land towards the US, while Central America is a land plagued by conflict and the attacks of giant monsters.
It’s a very obvious extended metaphor for the troubles that plague contemporary Central America, and for the journeys that Central Americans make towards the US, in search for a better life. The “infected zone” overlaps with the dangerous Mexican states that are controlled by cartels (although the scenery we see is only jungle, which doesn’t make sense). The zone is also fenced off, like the US-Mexican border. If you go into this expecting just a monster movie like Cloverfield (2008) or Super 8 (2011), then the message that director Gareth Edwards wants to pursue might get in the way of your enjoyment, because this is a political film.
From the first moments, it is quite obvious that the film puts us in the shoes of Central Americans and their point of view. The film starts squarely in Central America; in Costa Rica. Heavily militarized in the movie, we see all these shots of rocket launchers and fighter planes, while the regular taxi driver explains that he just tries to make a living from day to day. The film moves on to show some rural areas with welcoming Mexican farmers, who have emergency masks for protection against alien monsters. The tickets to America have become so expensive that our characters have no choice but to brave the infected zone.
Our two main characters aren’t immediately likeable and their motivations and personalities stay vague throughout the movie. Andrew (Scoot McNairy) is grumpy and uninterested in people, although he photographs everything, and Sam (Whitney Able) is a tourist and a rich man’s daughter. They don’t have much connection at first, except that Andrew pries into Sam’s thoughts with snarky questions.
I don’t like these characters. Andrew groans out his lines, and as the film progresses he turns into a dumb, ungrateful asshole. Sam has no clear character, and I almost suspect that that was intentional to show that she’s a rich man’s kid, but it could have been just uninspired writing. And of course some romantic elements are used, but I thought it was completely unbelievable. At one point, they tell each other that they had a great time, but the chemistry is so lacking that I thought that they were actually bored with each other. Even worse, at a critical juncture in the story, an element of jealousy pushed the characters towards the next adventure, but it was so unbelievable that the scene ended up being confusing.
The metaphor of the infected zone and these two Americans working their way north is so blatant, so obvious, that it feels as if the movie tried to cheat people into watching it with the whole monster angle. I don’t disapprove of the message, but the film would have worked better, and would have been more honest, if it was set in the real world and ditched the science fiction. It’s a bit like District 9 in that sense, but while District 9 had an entertaining, fast-paced and complex story, Monsters is not much more than a travelogue through Mexico for the whole first hour.
The landscapes are pretty, but that’s about the only positive thing about the movie. Its budget was apparently too small to show the monsters and all that you get to see is at night. Geographically, the film is very confusing. Anyone with a little bit of knowledge of the region might think that they are heading towards South America instead of north.
Conclusion. The greatest problems are the unlikable characters, bad acting, the blatant political messages and the overall dullness of the story. It is a character-driven film with shit characters. This was quite a disappointment.