Monday, 23 April 2012

2 Weeks of Movies - Monsters

Monsters 0/10

(some fairly big spoilers)

Ugh. Where to start? Well, I genuinely thought I would never have cause to give a movie a zero rating. But here it is. There were literally no redeeming features in this movie for me. It’s just... overwhelmingly bad. Of course, this is massively subjective and I know some people loved it. But this is my review and I’ll whine if I want to! Settled? Good.

The epic badness of this film is so disappointing to me, because the premise is a good one. A scientific mission in space crash-landed somewhere in Mexico. Alien life forms emerged and settled in the area, quickly reproducing. Attempts to eradicate them by the military are still on-going, but have so far failed. A huge area of Mexico and South America has now been fenced off and quarantined, and is known as the Infected Zone. This does not seem to stop the aliens from encroaching on both sides of the zone, wrecking the lives of the people they come into contact with and causing the people there to live in constant fear.

A reporter has been tasked with finding his boss’s daughter, who is a tourist in Mexico, and returning her to safety in the USA. However, when her passport is stolen and the last ferry has departed for the States, they are forced to make their way through the dangerous Infected Zone, and then find a way past the giant wall built across the border of the USA.

I haven’t been providing synopses for the films in these reviews, but it is necessary here in order to demonstrate how much the movie completely fails. And not only fails, but completely wastes what is actually a very good idea for a film.

First, the story itself is excruciatingly slow to get started, and when it does, it’s a boring mess. Very little happens. This, of course, can work really well in some movies. For example, what really happens in Duel beyond a truck driving a bit too close to the back of a car? Yet Duel is an amazing movie, and that’s because of the atmosphere, the tension and the ever present sense of very real danger. The acting is also top notch in Duel. In Monsters, unfortunately, the acting was flat, with very little atmosphere. The two main characters are travelling through the Infected Zone, an area populated by colossal octopus-like monsters that could easily kill them, and that have killed many other humans, but they don’t seem even slightly scared. They just gawp at the jungle around them and make really stupid comments. There is no sense of threat, no sense of sadness at the ruined buildings and broken homes, and not even a particular feeling of wanting to get home. They’re like robots drifting along mindlessly and emotionlessly. And we’re supposed to believe that they fall in love with each other on the way?

The Monsters barely make an appearance. This might be cool, if they were kept mysterious and frightening, always on the edge of the characters’ journey, a constant threat. But instead they just plod through at one point, kill a bunch of people pretty mindlessly, and then plod off again. They’re more animal than monster, you see, just getting on with life heedless of the people they’re stepping on. Again, cool concept, poor execution.

They are seen once more at the end of the film, where they have some kind of alien glow-in-the-dark tentacle sex, then plod off again. No, I’m really not making this up. So when it becomes clear that we are supposed to feel sorry for the aliens, to marvel at their beauty and to reflect that they are just, like us, trying to get on with their lives, it all falls a bit flat. I don’t really give a damn about the monsters, except for hoping that they’re going to eat the main characters before the end of the film (no such luck).

You can tell what this film wanted to be. It wanted to be a touching and unusual love story, as well as a moral tale about humanity’s tendency to consider anything different a ‘monster.’ It also desperately wanted to be an analogy for how Americans treat Mexicans. I could have liked this if it had been done well. I really enjoyed District 9, which does pretty much the same kind of thing, using the aliens to create an analogy for apartheid. And no, I don’t need my films to be full of explosions or directed by Micahel Bay to enjoy them. I’m also not a fourteen year old boy. These seem to be the main insults directed at people who didn’t like Monsters. But really, how can anyone like this? It fails miserably. The romance is boring and unbelievable. The characters could literally be blocks of wood and I would like them better. The monsters are huge octopuses that plod around killing people – so why would I not consider them to be a bad thing? Am I supposed to feel bad that the military is trying to kill them? I guess if we just left them alone then they wouldn’t bother us either, right? Except that they seem to enjoy coming out of the Infected Zone and smashing innocent people’s homes, and there are even two octopuses plodding around on the other side of the giant wall, smashing things in the USA too. Why should I feel sorry for them? Because they have glow-in-the-dark sex? I’m genuinely baffled as to what the director and writers were thinking.

And were we really supposed to feel something about the wall, which is a metaphor so glaringly obvious it felt like the director was hitting me over the head with an ‘Americans are BIG MEANIES’ sign. The main characters are Americans who have lost their passports and are now desperately trying to get into the States from Mexico, but they come up against a big wall separating ‘us’ from ‘them.’ Yes, we get it already. You don’t need the characters to actually spell it out for us. Which they do. From on top of an Aztec pyramid in the middle of the jungle, staring out at the giant wall. (Aztec pyramids lying around in the jungle at the USA-Mexico border?) Obviously, this kind of heavy-handed lecturing is never a good thing in a movie. And to make it worse, the filmmakers do not even seem to really understand their own metaphor. The main couple stand for Mexican illegal immigrants right? They’re trying to get into the USA illegally, after all, and there is a giant wall stopping them. But the giant wall is to stop the monsters. So the monsters are Mexicans? So Mexicans are terrifying monsters who plod around killing people and having tentacle sex? No wonder the USA wants to keep them out! Yes, I know I’m taking this too literally, but it demonstrates how badly thought out the whole thing is.

This movie was so joyless and preachy, I actually hate the fact that I spent time watching the damn thing. I don’t care if it was free, I want my time back! I can’t believe I watched the whole thing. I think I just kept waiting for it to get better, or at least for the Monsters to eat them. Or for something to happen! This was so boring. I would rather watch Conan. I would rather watch Immortals. Heck, I would a million times rather watch Twilight. I would genuinely rather watch the channel that just shows parliament talking to each other – at least it’s funny to watch them attempt to insult each other in their really British, upper-class way. So there you go. Zero stars. Not even glow-in-the-dark tentacle sex could save this one, and that’s really saying something.

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