I can’t earnestly call myself a low-budget indie movie fan. From my experience, the directors of such movies, having little to work with, often dwell too much on psychology, realism and human suffering, which works for festivals, but hardly provides for a pleasant viewing on a Saturday night at the cinema or in the comfort of your own home. But every now and then comes a filmmaker who has an idea that’s good enough to make an interesting, entertaining and memorable movie – despite, or, perhaps, thanks to a small budget. “Monsters” is of the latter kind.
Mexico, 6 years after a space probe crashed there, spreading alien life forms all over the place, turning half the country into “Quarantined Zone” and giving the white Americans something much worse to worry about than the illegal immigrants running across the border. A boss of a local newspaper orders one of his employees, photographer Andrew (Scoot McNairy) to escort his daughter Samantha (Whitney Able) back to the US. Andrew, whose job and passion it is to document all the disasters happening around him – and he’s in the midst of such at the moment, is less than happy with the assignment. But after meeting Sam, he warms up to her surprisingly quickly. Or maybe, not surprisingly – McNairy and Able act like normal people and their characters behave naturally. You can tell they like each other from the start and the feeling between them keep on growing throughout the movie. Sam and Andrew hop on a train, and set off on a dangerous journey, which will take them to some unexpected places – both literally and metaphorically.
To me, “Monsters” was, first of all, a road movie which helps the two lonely travelers reappraise their lives and find each other. The land they travel across – all shot on location in Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica and Belize – could just as well be war territory, but in this case – the war is with aliens. Everywhere they go, Sam and Andrew see signs of destruction and devastation. And with Andrew constantly taking pictures – the film feels almost like a documentary though it doesn’t exactly explain how it all happened – it shows you results. As for actual aliens – we hear them more than we see them. But it’s their deadly presence, that creates the sinister atmosphere, and gives new meaning to everything.
In fact, “Monsters” does have all the features of an indie flick – it’s made on a budget of $200,000 by a relative unknown (Gareth Edwards, who also wrote, shot, production-designed and did the effects), it stars relative unknowns, it’s realistic, meditative and it’s not filled with action – overall it’s rather mild and slow for an “alien” movie. But it also lacks the cliché dialogues and plot twists, and excessive special effects typical for American alien movies. Instead it’s very humane, has beautiful cinematography and the chemistry between two central characters is as genuine as it gets – the fact that McNairy and Able got married after making the movie says enough about it.