Six years ago...NASA discovered the possibility of alien life within our solar system. A space probe was launched to collect samples, but broke up during re-entry over Mexico. Soon after, new life forms began to appear and half the country was quarantined as an INFECTED ZONE. Today... the Mexican and US military still struggle to contain 'the creatures'...
Films like 'Monsters' are a big part of why I'm such a film fanatic. This isn't some mega brainless blockbuster, with gravity defying effects or a complex story that requires repeat viewings to fully "get." There are no "name" actors, no random cameos, and the realistic feel the film gives off is only amplified due to not having this kind of distraction. It's cinematic minimalism, with a sub-million dollar budget, yet it doesn't seem at all cheap. Best of all, it's a film that, even if unintentionally, has some interesting undertones and ideas throughout, and is culturally relevant, a statement film on accident.
Written and directed by Gareth Edwards, making his feature film debut for both aspects, and starring Whitney Able and Scoot McNairy, both actors whose collective film careers could be considered less than successful, 'Monsters' creates a story and atmosphere that seems very personal, a wild idea that, through unusual inspiration, burgeoned into one of the more interesting science fiction films of 2010.
Andrew Kaulder (McNairy), an on assignment photographer who makes good money photographing the bizarre alien creatures and the carnage they create, is tasked with escorting his boss's daughter, Samantha (Able), from Central America back to the United States. After failing to gain passage on the last commercial ship to America before quarantine goes into effect for six months, the duo decide to travel through the Infected Zone, which covers the Northern half to two-thirds of Mexico, to their destination, through a group of coyotes. As they journey, their run ins and close calls with the alien creatures give Kaulder the chance of a lifetime to hit paydirt, though his feelings for Samantha and her inquiries about the morality of his job make him question his life. It's 200 kilometers to the American border, and the most impressive border wall ever built; Kaulder and Samantha have to survive the journey to get there, though, and what they discover may not be all they envisioned.
I find it amazingly difficult to believe that any parallels to the immigration of the various nationalities south of the border are a mere coincidence. To be frank, I don't buy it for a second. When you have a film that shows a giant border wall that is exactly on the US/Mexico border, to keep the "undesirable" visitors out, a film that refers to the majority of a country as infected, it's hard to not catch these small things and put two and two together. So, while I call bullshit on that little nugget, I can say that what is delivered on screen is a very effective, if none-too-subtle allegory, and one of the better message films to come out in some time.
The way 'Monsters' was filmed gives it all sorts of credibility, and frequently left me in awe, as the majority of the people shown are just residents of the areas where filming took place, and filming itself wasn't a beleaguered, long drawn out affair, as numerous locations never granted permission for the crew to work. It's guerilla filmmaking, a pseudo-"found footage" genre journey through the heart of a dangerous, borderline forbidden, destitute land. The "extras," as it were, are entirely believable, as they are 100 percent real. The dialogue seems natural, because it's somewhat ad-libbed, made up on the spot, with just a general idea to work with. The end result is a believable film that's low on polish, but has surprisingly good special effects, despite a nearly non-existent budget.
'Monsters' isn't a film that will universally appeal, though. There are plenty of people who still can't stand films like 'The Blair Witch Project,' who will dismiss the film due to the fact that there aren't aliens in it every second. Of course, some of the best science fiction films about aliens (like, for example, '
The Disc: Vital Stats
'Monsters' arrives on Blu-ray on a BD50 Dual Layer disc from Magnolia. There are currently two editions of the film available on Blu-ray, and the only difference between them is the presence of a slipcover and a paper only digital copy found on the special edition. The discs themselves are supposedly identical. This disc does a great job of remembering playback details, and when asked if you want to continue where you left off in a previous viewing session, all the pre-menu content is skipped. Magnolia, you got it right!Pre-menu trailers include: 'Ong Bak 3,' 'All Good Things,' 'Night Catches Us,' 'Vanishing on 7th Street,' 'Rubber,' and an HDNet promo.
I didn't go into 'Monsters' with high hopes, considering what I have read about how the film was made, concerning how it would look. I'm honestly surprised it looked this good, as the 1080p transfer on this Blu-ray has its moments, even if it is almost consistently mediocre.
Detail levels are never overly strong, as even near-close up shots have a bit of dullness to them, so don't expect super sharp and shiny picture qualities here, even if there is no dirt or scratch issues. Instead, there are messy skin tones, banding in some areas, tiny bits of aliasing and a few jagged edges, a few edge enhanced ones, too, slight noise issues, grain spikes, random murkiness, and artifacting that really comes to light in the darkest moments. Sure, the film is colorful, and it has a nice aesthetic to it, which is very guerilla and rough, so it shouldn't look pristine, but the random depth quality mixed with random clarity can be a bit frustrating.
Go in with low expectations, so you can either be satisfied or quite pleased with the look of this release.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix on 'Monsters' is pretty effective, much more so than the video.
Dialogue is slightly understated, but always comes through clearly and intelligibly. Bass levels go from nearly non-existent to quite powerful and effective any time a creature is on screen, and these thumps are really quite effective. Rear presence isn't too powerful, but with some good localization and movement, the back channels usually have something to do. There are no hollow effects or dialogue, no "out of place" noises that seemed added way into post, no sync issues, and no feedback whatsoever.
This film feels like a documentary, but with better rear use. As such, it's pretty neat.
There's a whole 'lotta HD goin' on in this supplement section. Magnolia, a huge thumbs up for this!
'Monsters' may be one of the best surprises of 2010, an unintentionally poignant, adventurous little new take on the sci-fi and "found footage" genres. I'll say this much: I didn't enjoy 'Cloverfield' anywhere near as much as I dug this. It's not an impressive disc, really, until you realize the awesomeness on display in the supplements section, which are all in high-def. Over three hours of high def extras. That has to count for something, and in this review, that helps cement an easy recommendation for this disc.