Monsters: A Low-Fi, Sci-Fi, Love Story of Modest, Not Monstrous Proportions

Categories: Film and TV
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If a huge disaster were to strike, and two people were to fall in love trying to escape the havoc, would the end result be a movie as trite as you might imagine? In this case, the answer is an assured, but not resounding, "no." British director Gareth Edwards, best known for his work on space-travel and natural disaster documentaries, has created Monsters, a alien-filled suspense thriller that opens at the Coral Gables Art Cinema on Christmas Eve.

Monsters
(a straight title that reflects the film's bare-faced approach to a typically hyper-technical genre) begins in Mexico, six years after a NASA space probe carrying samples of alien life crashed to the earth's surface in Central America. The contaminated probe spawned the first generation of "creatures," spindly, dark, 100-foot tall squid-elephant apparitions with a penchant for destroying animate objects, both human and machine.

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At the film's outset, half of Mexico has been quarantined off as the Infected Zone. Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy) is a self-serving, cynical photographer chasing the chance to capture a few good photographs of a live beast, worth $50,000 to the owners of mainstream American magazines.

One such magazine owner commissions Kaulder for a dearer assignment: the task of escorting his beautiful daughter Sam Wynden (Whitney Able) out of the ever-wilder Mexican wilderness and back to the safety of American soil. The remainder of the film follows the two as they ride, beg, and bribe their way back to the Promised Land.
 
McNairy succeeds in gradually evolving his character from an opportunistic frat boy-type (overtly trying to sneak a peek of his travel-companion in the nude after a shower, for example) to a romantic, if imperfect, guardian for his ward, fumbling adorably with his newfound responsibility. His freckled, asymmetrical face, irksome in its sweaty impatience during the exposition, effectively evokes an empathy and lost boy-ish innocence by the film's beguiling final scene.

Able's portrayal, however, is less, well, able. With the aid of loose scripting, the actress presents an amorphous character that is, in no specific order, naïve, pitiful, industrious (when she says indignantly "Do I look like someone who doesn't work?"), spoiled (when it never becomes apparent that she actually works), dismissive, sensitive, proud, and completely, snivelingly helpless. By the 13th time the camera lazily contemplates the shadows her eyelashes cast on her porcelain cheekbones, it's hard to resist shouting, "All right, we get it, she's pensive and pretty... Next!"

Their journey, though, is a gorgeous element of the film. We're confronted with understated footage of lush landscapes and everyday people (actually shot in Guatemala and Belize, not Mexico), which we perceive all the more deliberately thanks to the punctuating snaps of Kaulder's camera and the apocalyptic undertow.

It's as though the recurring motifs of photography and doom remind us to see with more urgency and purpose. The final scene, consisting of an extremely well-done sequence of low-budget special effects and minimalist music, is worth hanging on for. Over all, Monsters offers an interesting intersection of genres using scaled back resources, culminating in a pretty, but not profound, film.

Monsters opens at the Coral Gables Art Cinema (260 Aragon Avenue, Coral Gables) on December 24 and runs through December 30. Tickets are $9 general admission; $7 for seniors 65 and over and full time students 25 and under (I.D. required); and $5 for children 12 and under. Call 786-385-9689 or visit gablescinema.com.<

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Coral Gables Art Cinema

260 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables, FL

Category: Film

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