CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: MONSTERS (2010)
by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
(The Scene: a room decorated for a party, complete with balloons, party favors, a cake with candles, and monster-themed decorations. The only thing missing are the guests, as MICHAEL ARRUDA sits alone. L.L. SOARES enters the room.)
LS: Where is everybody?
MA: Have you ever thrown a party and nobody came?
Because that’s what I felt like as I watched MONSTERS (2010), a monster movie where the monsters forgot to show up!
We were supposed to review MONSTERS last weekend, but due to a VERY limited release, we weren’t able to. Instead, we checked it out on cable OnDemand, where it’s now available for a small fee.
LS: I paid $6.99. That wasn’t that small a fee. It was just a few bucks less than the price of a movie ticket, except I had to watch it on my TV.
MA: It’s still cheaper than a movie ticket.
MONSTERS begins well, even though its premise is based on some far-fetched logic. We learn immediately that six years ago, NASA discovered evidence that alien life existed in our solar system. I’m pretty sure scientists have determined the odds of life existing on any of the other planets in our solar system are practically nil. Alien life will have to come to us from much farther away.
LS: The movie also says it takes place today. Since there are no alien monsters on earth right now, that might be a giveaway that this isn’t exactly our reality.
MA: So much for believability.
Anyway, alien life has been discovered, and alien monsters have descended upon the earth. U.S. and Mexican forces have been struggling to contain the giant monsters. Why these creatures haven’t invaded Europe and Asia I don’t think is clearly explained. The United States has even gone so far as to build a huge wall to secure its border. Hmm. Can someone say metaphor?
LS: Can someone say “no reading comprehension?” In the beginning of this movie, they explain exactly what happened. A space probe crash landed in Mexico near the U.S. border. The probe had some samples of alien life on it. When it crashed, the creatures started to breed on earth. It’s not so alien an idea, actually. That’s similar to the way some rats came over to America, stowing away aboard boats that came from Europe. These aliens MONSTERS are kind of like extraterrestrial rats. Except bigger, and with tentacles.
MA: I think it’s time to move on to “listening comprehension.” I said “clearly explained.” A few brief lines in small print at the beginning of a movie hardly constitute a clear explanation. Maybe if the movie had done a better job of keeping me awake I might have remembered those tiny words at the beginning.
LS: And the reason why they didn’t invade Europe and Asia is because they didn’t friggin crash land in Europe and Asia, and American planes are dropping bombs on them to keep them contained in Mexico. But they’re multiplying rapidly, and they’ll probably make their way overseas eventually…
(There is a knock at the door. LS opens door to find MACHETE holding two enormous shot guns.)
MACHETE: Machete wants to find this big wall you mentioned!
LS: Turn left, walk half a mile, take a right, and you can’t miss it.
MACHETE: Thanks, amigo.
MA: Don’t mention it. Want to stay for some cake?
MACHETE: Machete don’t eat cake. (Exits)
MA: In the opening scene of the movie, one of the giant monsters attacks a military convoy. It’s an effective scene, and it gets the movie off on the right foot.
LS: Yeah, I thought it was pretty good, too.
MA: Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy), a photographer for an unnamed publication, who is in Central America to take pictures of people killed by the giant monsters, learns that he has been given the responsibility of getting his boss’s daughter Samantha “Sam” Wynden (Whitney Able) safely back to the U.S. She’s returning home to get married, but she seems anything but excited about her fiancée.
LS: Yeah, she seems to have a major case of cold feet. She doesn’t even want to call her fiancée to tell him she’s okay, after planes bomb the hotel she was in—to kill off one of the big-ass monsters.
MA: Andrew accompanies Sam on the train ride back to the States, but when the tracks are damaged and the train is forced to turn back, Andrew decides they need to get off the train in order to continue onward. They continue their trek on boats, trucks, with guides, soldiers, and on their own by foot. Will they make it back to the U.S. without being eaten by the humongous alien creatures? Does anyone care? I have to admit, I started out caring and was into this movie at first, but as it went on and on without much of anything exciting happening, I began to lose interest until I reached the point where I truly did not care what happened to these people.
LS: I dunno, I liked Andrew and Sam. I cared what happened to them.
MA: The people in this movie talk about the monsters quite a bit, but the monsters themselves are conspicuously missing, which is a strange thing for a movie called MONSTERS! The creatures always seem to be some place else, and our characters are careful not to travel to the place where the monsters are stomping around. In real life, this is a great idea, but in a movie that is supposed to tell a story, it’s not a good idea to keep your main threat hidden away in the jungle somewhere. There’s not much conflict or suspense if the alien beasts are miles away.
Can you imagine KING KONG doing the same thing? Yeah, there’s this island with this big wall with some unknown giant creature behind the wall, but we’re not going anywhere near it. We’ll hang out over here miles away on the safe side of the island and just talk about what the creature might look like…..I don’t think so.
(A giant Ape Face peeks in at them through the window)
KONG: Hiya guys, whatchoo doing?
LS: What does it look like, you big hairy ape? We’re reviewing a movie.
KONG: Can I help? Can I review a movie, too? Huh? Can I? Can I?
MA: Did you see MONSTERS?
LS: Then how can you help review it? Take a hike, you numbskull.
(KONG narrows his eyes into a menacing glare.)
MA (to LS): I wouldn’t insult Kong if I were you. He’s been known to stomp and chew on people.
LS (to KONG): No need to get all sensitive on me. Jeesh! If you can’t handle the heat, you shouldn’t be on Cinema Knife Fight.
MA (to KONG): Don’t feel so bad, Kong. A movie like MONSTERS doesn’t even deserve to be in the same discussion with you. You’re far superior.
LS (looking at MA): What a kiss-ass.
(KONG smiles, then walks away, shaking the earth with every step)
MA: By far, the lack of monsters is the biggest reason I didn’t like MONSTERS. It’s not one of those movies where not seeing the monsters works to its advantage either, where there’s lots of suspenseful scenes and you’re only catching glimpses of the creature. This isn’t JAWS (1975), where you don’t actually see the shark until way late in the movie but you don’t care because you’ve been scared to death already. The monsters just aren’t around. Period. Little or no suspense is generated, which is too bad, because when we finally do see the creatures, they’re quite cool-looking.
LS: Are you done ranting? You can’t eat your cake and have it, too. Either there are no monsters in MONSTERS, or there are, and they’re cool-looking. Make up your mind! The truth is, you’re exaggerating when you say there are no monsters, because there obviously are.
MA: Yes, I am exaggerating. Monsters obviously appear in this movie, but I counted three scenes that had monsters in it. Three scenes! Oooh!!
LS: We see one right at the beginning, we see glimpses of them during the film at key scenes, and then we see them a lot at the end. Maybe you were too busy covering your eyes with your hands to see them?
MA: We see them a lot at the end? Did we see the same movie? There’s one scene at the end where we see the monsters, and it’s an extremely dull scene to boot! Some climax! And I don’t think we see enough glimpses of them throughout the movie.
This film has about as much suspense as a love story. Even if the movie hadn’t been about monsters, it still would have been a dud. Had the threat been a violent drug cartel or militant terrorists, the movie still wouldn’t have been exciting because the story never seems to engage its threat. It plays more like a character study of the two main characters, Andrew and Sam. The threats they’re running from remain well hidden in the background.
It’s not that Andrew and Sam aren’t likeable. They are. They’re just not interesting enough to carry an entire movie on their own.
LS: I disagree. I liked their story and was interested to see how they would finally get back home.
MA: You must like movies on Lifetime then, too.
I liked the acting performances by the two leads. I especially liked McNairy as Andrew. He created a very likeable character. Whitney Able was also very good as Samantha, though I wouldn’t say she stood out.
LS: I thought she was just as good as he was.
MA: If there’s one thing I really liked about MONSTERS, it would be its photography. The film really takes advantage of its on-location filming in Central America. It looks great. I suppose director Gareth Edwards deserves credit for this. Too bad he forgot he was making a monster movie. Maybe it wasn’t his intention to make a monster movie. Maybe he had higher goals in mind. What he made was a mildly interesting love story about two people trying to get back home. Yawn!
LS: The photography is great, as is the use of the locations. And I didn’t find it “mildly interesting” at all. I stuck with this movie from beginning to end, and enjoyed it.
MA: That really surprises me.
LS: The funny thing is, the trailers made it look like a cross between DISTRICT 9 and CLOVERFFIELD, but it really isn’t like either one. The aliens are not man-like at all, and aren’t restricted to a shanty-town. They don’t even have spaceships. And while they’re big and ugly, they don’t seem as aggressive and destructive as the monster in CLOVERFIELD. They’re just trying to live on this new world without getting killed.
MA: I guess. To be honest, I didn’t know what the hell the monsters were doing. I don’t think the movie did a good job telling the monsters’ story at all. It was too busy dwelling on whether the two leads would sleep together or not.
LS: Instead of invaders with an agenda, we just have space creatures that are little more than wild animals, trying to survive in a new environment. I thought that was a refreshing idea.
(The CLOVERFIELD monster presses his huge face against the window)
CLOVERFIELD: Hey guys, where’s the party? How come you didn’t invite me?
LS: I would have, but Arruda here was trying to make a point. Too bad it’s a dumb one.
MA: The truth is, Soares was so busy singing the praises of MONSTERS, he forgot to send out the invitations.
CLOVERFIELD: Gee, that stinks. I would have loved to celebrate something right now. It’s been kind of boring waiting for my sequel to come out.
LS: Well, it’s not a real party, guy. Sorry about that.
CLOVERFIELD: Darn! (He walks away, shaking the earth with each step)
LS: One thing MONSTERS does share with CLOVERFIELD is that it doesn’t give us a lot of close-up shots of the monsters themselves until the end. It’s funny how you complain about not seeing the monsters enough, and yet CLOVERFIELD showed even less of its monster, and that’s one of your all-time favorite movies.
MA: That’s because CLOVERFIELD was thrilling throughout. MONSTERS is a slow-moving character study with as much suspense as a laundry detergent commercial. And while you might not have seen the CLOVERFIELD monster all that much, its presence was felt throughout the movie.
MONSTERS’ director, Gareth Edwards, also wrote the screenplay, and while he wrote some great dialogue, especially for Andrew, he failed at doing much when it came to the monsters. There’s just not much of a monster story here.
LS: So you keep saying.
MA: The lack of monsters here is made worse by the fact that the movie is called MONSTERS. If you’re going to name your movie MONSTERS, you might want to put lots of monsters in it! Sure, there are a few scenes in which we see some monsters, but these scenes are hardly exciting or memorable.
LS: Do you ever actually listen to your reviews? First you say the monsters were cool-looking. Now you say they weren’t very memorable. First you say there are no monsters in MONSTERS, then you admit there are a few monsters in the movie. Sometimes you really sound like you’re babbling.
MA: Let’s return to the “listening comprehension” thing. I said the monsters are cool- looking, but the scenes they’re in aren’t that exciting. I don’t find anything confusing about this statement. And the whole “no monsters” thing is this: the film is called MONSTERS, and so there’s a reasonable expectation that there will be lots of monsters in this movie. If you pay money to see this movie, thinking you’re going to see lots of monsters, you’re going to be disappointed. That’s my point.
MONSTERS is a flat movie that isn’t compelling at all, and as a monster movie, it’s a complete fail. Other than some excellent photography and two likeable leads, there’s not much to see. It should have been called NO MONSTERS. I give it one and a half knives.
LS: And I completely disagree. I liked the acting and the characters. I liked the suspense of wondering how they’re going to get out of Mexico, especially when they enter the “infected zone,” where the monsters are on the verge of their mating season. I thought it was interesting how the American fighter planes and soldiers attacked the monsters whenever they got too close to the border – to make sure they stayed put—and yet they didn’t seem too concerned about the fact that a big chunk of Mexico was “infected” (as long as the monsters stayed where they belonged).
Sure, there are metaphors here, but I think they work. MONSTERS was a lot better than I thought it would be, especially after missing a chance to see it on the big screen. This movie worked for me. I give it three knives.
MA: I’m really surprised you liked this one.
(The entire building begins to shake and crumble)
MA: What’s going on out there?
LS (looks out the window): It looks like Kong and Cloverfield are dancing!
MA: We better get out of here before this skyscraper collapses.
LS: Damn monsters……
© Copyright 2010 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
Michael Arruda gave MONSTERS – One and a half knives!
L.L. Soares gave MONSTERS - Three knives!