Monday, November 29, 2010

Monsters: Film review (spoiler alert)

In an early scene in Monsters (Gareth Edwards, 2010) an American soldier, one of many in a tank leading an attack on extra-terrestrials from the 'infected zone', sings a few bars from Richard Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries", a tune made famous by its inclusion on the sound track in the beach attack scene in the epic war film Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979). Indeed, the same 'gung ho' attitude exhibited by soldiers in Apocalypse Now towards the use of fire power and absolute disregard of damage to the civilian population* is also evident in Monsters.
It's from this point onwards that we realize that the film, promoted primarily as an alien/sci-fi flick is actually a commentary on America's fear of the other, who, as the tag line for the film says: 'are no longer aliens. They're residents. Now, it's our turn to adapt'!
Throughout the film scenes of destruction, like those that include disintegrating towers, suggest that, like the attack on the World Trade Centre the large-scale destruction was caused by something Americans consider alien. In Monsters, the extra-terrestrials are cephalopod molluscs that sport long tentacles, similar to the giant octopus in the science fiction film They Came from Beneath the Sea (Robert Gordon, 1955). The aliens have 'infected' an area of deep scrub in Mexico and implanted their offspring into tree trunks. They are purported to leave the trees, enter the water and then return when grown to the place of their birth.
As the film progresses we begin to understand that many of the Mexicans who have learnt to live within close proximity of the creatures, seek protection and wear gas masks not because they are necessarily afraid of the aliens, but because of the persistent chemical warfare and air strikes dealt out by an over zealous and paranoid American defence force, which affects their otherwise peaceful state of being.
With all it's emphasis on war and the 'collateral' damage inflicted on innocents*, this is a cross-genre film, which is part road movie, part love story. The whole thing is held together beautifully by the superb acting of the two main protagonists Andrew (Scoot McNairy) a journalist and his boss's daughter (Whitney Able), who make their way along a river and the 'infected zone' towards a large brick wall that has been erected between the zone inhabited by aliens and the U.S.A ~ a visual reminder like the Berlin Wall and the great Wall of China that a clear division was being established between those within and without the fold. But as Andrew says in the film, with the wall 'we are making ourselves prisoners'.
There's a beautiful scene towards the end of the film that makes you think about the way we perceive the other, who is not like us. I can't tell you about it because it will spoil the plot. This film won't appeal to anyone who likes things all tied up at the end, but I can say that like that other movie Monster (Patty Jenkins, 2003), this film certainly makes you reassess who the monsters really are.
*At 5pm EST Friday 22nd October 2010 WikiLeaks released the largest classified military leak in history. The 391,832 reports ('The Iraq War Logs'), document the war and occupation in Iraq, from 1st January 2004 to 31st December 2009 (except for the months of May 2004 and March 2009) as told by soldiers in the United States Army. The reports detail 109,032 deaths in Iraq, comprised of 66,081 'civilians'; 23,984 'enemy' (those labeled as insurgents); 15,196 'host nation' (Iraqi government forces) and 3,771 'friendly' (coalition forces). The majority of the deaths (66,000, over 60%) of these are civilian deaths.That is 31 civilians dying every day during the six year period. For comparison, the 'Afghan War Diaries', previously released by WikiLeaks, covering the same period, detail the deaths of some 20,000 people. Iraq during the same period, was five times as lethal with equivalent population size. Source:


  1. I saw the film Monsters yesterday, Julie has provided a review which covers all bases. What I liked about Monsters was the anti Hollywood approach; the female lead did not scream when centimetres from a large alien ( she took a thinking approach that was effective) the male lead did not shoot anything to "save the day". Even the monsters were not one dimensional (seen as beautiful and terrible in different moments) The sub text of American self interest was so well done I began to question half way through if the USA had 'created' the monster story to control illegal immigration ( I was in conspiracy theory mode). The good thing about this film is the audience were not treated like idiots, I enjoyed it very much. I thank Julie for the Spoiler alert (she blogged about it before I saw the film. Lauren

  2. I can understand why you went into 'conspiracy theory mode' whilst watching this film ~ with all the stories constructed by those in power, one wonders if we will ever really know the reality of any given situation.

  3. Not to contradict anything you've said, just to add... the creatures are a long way from home. The main characters are a long way from home. This film is about dislocation within an 'alien' environment beyond normal bounds. The future is uncertain, the now endless, the past irrelevant. The main protagonists are surrounded by so many 'constructions' - physical & otherwise, yet their own are stripped away. Their jobs, roles, relationships, important in another time and place, have no meaning here. They are adrift and have just each other for comfort. That's all. And it's enough. Strikes at our very core.

    Beautifully filmed. Beautifully acted. Beautifully scored. A treat.

  4. Thanks for your valuable comment 'Anonymous' December 10th - I enjoyed the poetic nature of your response. Did you know that 968 people have read my review since I posted it. :)

  5. meh. Not much happens in this movie-lotta talking, once in a while a blurry Cloverfield style shot of a monster.

  6. " I enjoyed the poetic nature of your response"
    Huh??? You haven't even read it yet.